Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

A career as an NNP can be both demanding and immensely rewarding. Careers

Updated   Published

Whether you're a nursing student considering a future in neonatal care or a healthcare professional looking to expand your expertise, join us as we delve into the world of neonatal nurse practitioners (NNP) and the invaluable role they play in providing comprehensive care to vulnerable newborns and their families.

Below we explore the essential aspects of an NNP's job description, including their responsibilities, salary potential, and the educational and licensing path required to pursue this specialized career.

NNP Job Description

NNPs primarily provide specialized care and support to high-risk newborn infants and their families in neonatal settings, such as neonatal centers or intensive care units (NICU), emergency rooms (ER), delivery rooms, and outpatient developmental clinics.

Some reasons these newborn infants or neonates might need specialized care include premature complications, congenital defects, low birth weight, organ malformations, or infection.

NNPs are considered highly skilled advanced practice nurses with training in neonatal care to perform physical assessments, gather medical history from the family, order lab and diagnostic tests, interpret results and diagnose, use specialized monitoring technology, prescribe medications, and administer interventions. They do so with the direction of a neonatal fellow or neonatologist, and their scopes can vary depending on where they work and organizational policies.

Although it can be emotionally demanding when faced with difficult situations and critically ill infants, a career as an NNP can be incredibly rewarding as you get the opportunity to work with and positively impact the lives of newborns and their families. This role requires resilience and empathy, the ability to manage high stress, a passion for neonatal care, strong clinical skills, and a commitment to lifelong learning and development. 

NNP Responsibilities

Using their advanced education and training, NNPs are qualified to take on many responsibilities with their expanded scope of practice. However, it is essential to note that what they can do depends on their experience, patient complexities, resources available, medical directives, and organizational policies. Some responsibilities that NNPs may take on could include the following: 

  • Comprehensively assessing and monitoring health status of neonates
  • Conducting physical examinations, ordering diagnostic tests, and interpreting results (dependent on the state's Nurse Practice Act and the rules and regulations of the institution)
  • Working collaboratively with an interdisciplinary team to develop and implement care plans for neonates and families
  • Administering medical interventions and follow-up for neonates
  • Depending on the institution's regulations in which the NNP works, they may lead or assist in more invasive neonatal procedures (such as intubation, central line placement, and lumbar punctures)
  • Educating parents and families about neonatal care, health promotion, and disease prevention
  • Providing emotional support to families during difficult and vulnerable situations

Related: 10 Best Master of Science (MSN) Programs in 2023

The responsibilities and tasks required of NNPs can vary depending on the setting in which they work. In general, three levels of infant care exist in most hospitals:

  • Level One: Newborn Nursery is for full-term and healthy infants with low need for NNP support
  • Level Two: Intermediate Care Nursery is where premature and sick babies need constant attention
  • Level Three: Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery is for the most severely ill neonates with critical health issues who must be constantly monitored, often using specialized equipment

NNP Salary

Salary for NNPs can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and work setting. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for nurse practitioners, including NNPs, was $123,780 in May 2021. However, it's important to note that this figure is an average and may not reflect the exact salary for an NNP in a specific area.

NNPs may also receive additional benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, incentive payments, retirement plans, and paid time off. Some employers may offer differential pay for night shifts, weekends, or holidays, and private practices or academic institutions may offer different salary structures than hospitals or medical centers. 

It is worth mentioning that salary ranges can change over time due to inflation, demand for NNPs, and changes in healthcare policies. Therefore, researching the specific salary ranges and job opportunities in your desired location and consulting reliable sources such as recent job market reports, and professional organizations for the most up-to-date information is recommended.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

To become an NNP in the USA, you must follow a specific educational and licensing path.

  1. Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Ensure that the nursing program you choose is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). 
  2. After graduating from your BSN program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and is required to become a licensed registered nurse (RN).
  3. Before pursuing a specialization, gaining some experience as an RN in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or a related setting is recommended. Working in the NICU will provide valuable exposure to neonatal care and help you develop the necessary skills.
  4. Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) advanced nursing degree to become an NNP.
  5. Look for accredited NNP programs that align with your career goals and interests. Many universities offer specialized NNP programs as a concentration within an MSN/DNP program or as a separate track. Many nurses pursue a generalist MSN and later earn a post-master's NNP certificate. Most advanced degree programs in neonatal nursing require at least two years of experience in Level III nursing as an eligibility requirement.
  6. Once accepted into an NNP program, complete the required coursework and clinical practicum. 
  7. Upon completing a graduate or post-graduate education, you are eligible for national certification through a national certifying body that recognizes NNPs. Most states require national certification for NNP licensure, although not all states recognize the same national specializations. It is essential to check with your state's board of nursing beforehand to determine which NNP specializations are recognized.

A career as an NNP can be both demanding and immensely rewarding. The opportunity to positively impact the lives of newborns and their families, coupled with the satisfaction of playing a critical role in neonatal healthcare, attracts passionate individuals to this specialized field.


Nurse Nhi has 10 years experience and specializes in Mental Health and Wellness.

4 Articles   10 Posts