what is a NICU nurse?

As a NICU nurse, you monitor and treat neonatal patients. You mostly treat premature newborn babies or babies born at full-term but have suffered injuries or complications. When you work with neonates born a considerable time before their due date, you monitor their vital signs and ensure they get the support they need to stay alive. Since neonates are small and delicate, you should be extra careful when feeding or medicating them.

While your primary responsibility is to feed and treat neonates, you also interact with their parents. Your job is to provide emotional support and educate them on the complications of the babies. You also provide counselling and support on end-of-life decisions when a neonate's condition gets worse.

As a NICU nurse, you require critical thinking skills to create neonate treatment plans. In case of any complications, you rely on your critical thinking ability to come up with solutions. Since neonatal babies develop rapidly, it is important to understand the stages of development and monitor changes to their vital signs and health. Attention to detail helps you recognise even the slightest changes in the patient's health.

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average NICU nurse salary

The typical average salary of a NICU nurse in Australia is $83,000 per year. Your experience will determine your remuneration package. For instance, when you are starting out as a neonatal intensive care nurse, you begin with a salary of $80,500 per year. As you improve your experience and gain expertise, your earnings increase significantly, and you can take home over $91,500 per year.

what factors affect the salary of a NICU nurse?

Your qualifications and experience affect your salary as a NICU nurse. You require a graduate qualification, but having additional training in paediatrics boosts your remuneration prospects. Work experience also influences the duties you perform and determines your salary. With extensive experience, you can handle complex duties at healthcare facilities, boosting your earning potential.

Aside from work experience and qualifications, the work hours also influence earnings. While NICU nurses mostly work in full-time shift schedules to provide round-the-clock care, part-time positions are also available. When you work part-time hours, you are likely to earn a lower rate than NICU nurses who work full-time schedules.

Want to know what you will earn as a NICU nurse? Check out what you are worth with our salary checker.


types of NICU nurse

As a NICU nurse, you can specialise in various areas of neonatal care. For instance, some NICU nurses specialise in respiratory therapy. Your job is to treat the lungs and airways of neonates. You analyse blood gases and monitor oxygen levels. If the neonate is in respiratory distress, you insert breathing tubes and administer respiratory treatment. As a physical therapist, you help build and strengthen the movements of neonates. You perform therapies to keep the joints, muscles, and nerves growing.

As a NICU nurse, you can also assist mothers with breastfeeding premature babies and pumping breast milk. You help feed babies with special needs to ensure healthy growth.

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female working from computer

working as a NICU nurse

Read on to learn about the specific tasks, responsibilities, and work environments associated with NICU nursing.


education and skills

You should be a registered nurse to become a NICU nurse. Hence, you are required to meet the educational requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The degree takes four years to complete and involves clinical placement, which allows you to gain work experience. Register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to start working as a registered nurse.

When you are a registered nurse, pursue a master of advanced nursing to become a NICU nurse. Alternatively, get a postgraduate certificate in advanced nursing and neonatal nursing to work in the NICU. Some NICU nurses are trained in Advanced Life Support (ALS). Since you work with children, some hospitals require you to undergo a police check and a Working with Children Check.

NICU nurse skills and competencies

NICU nurses require the following skills and qualities:

  • strong communication skills: as a NICU nurse, you are in constant contact with the parents. You require exceptional communication skills to explain the medical conditions of the babies in simple terms. Aside from passing information, you need active listening skills to understand the parents' concerns and establish trust. Communication skills are also essential between doctors and nurses to communicate the treatment plan clearly.
  • attention to details: as a NICU nurse, being attentive to details is important. Neonates undergo rapid development, and being detail-oriented helps you notice even the slightest changes. Being attentive to detail helps you recognise changes in a newborn's symptoms and vital signs that could be a health concern.
  • manual dexterity: babies are tiny, especially those born prematurely. That means you need good manual dexterity to handle them gently and avoid injuries when the baby is moving erratically. Having nimbler fingers helps you perform the necessary procedures without hurting babies.
  • ability to make quick decisions: as a NICU nurse, you act fast if you notice any complications in babies. Since babies cannot speak, you assess situations quickly to ensure manageable problems don't become critical.

FAQs about working as a NICU nurse

Here, you will find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the profession of a NICU nurse.

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