10 Key Skills for a NICU Nurse (With Tips)

7 NICU nurse skills to master

The neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, of a hospital employs registered nurses who share certain traits that enable them to successfully care for newborns with serious, urgent, or medically complex health conditions. In addition to their formal education and training, NICU nurses also possess personality traits that make them compassionate caregivers.

According to Nurse Journal, anyone who wants to become a registered nurse (RN) must first complete the same educational requirements as prospective NICU nurses. You can earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which typically takes four years of study, or an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which typically takes two years to complete. Both programs prepare students to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is necessary for state licensure and is given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Although it is not legally necessary to be certified in order to work, certification may increase pay and job opportunities. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or the National Certification Corporation both offer certification programs for neonatal nurses. Both call for a minimum amount of time spent providing direct care to infants who are critically ill. Education, experience or research may substitute for work hours.

The so-called “soft” skills, which can be viewed as personality traits, are necessary for NICU nurses in addition to the professional knowledge and skills they acquire through formal education. These are challenging to measure and cannot be learned in a classroom, but they are essential qualities for people who want to take on the demanding role of NICU nurse.

NICU nurses must naturally care and be compassionate toward tiny, helpless infants. To care for critically ill infants who frequently can’t be in direct contact with their mothers due to their precarious conditions, they need to have an almost maternal instinct. The NICU nurse must be able to fill this motherly role’s void by fusing genuine compassion and love for the infant with emergency-level medical expertise.

Between doctors and parents, as well as between infants and their parents, NICU nurses act as mediators. It is thus essential that they have excellent communication skills. In addition to the procedures carried out on newborns as instructed by doctors, NICU nurses must be able to clearly explain to parents situations that are frequently complex and medical terminology. Nurses need to express parents concerns to doctors as well. Additionally, NICU nurses must be able to teach parents how to take care of their newborns. The nurses must also have these abilities in addition to the patience to communicate with parents who may need information to be repeated.

A NICU nurse’s job is extremely emotionally taxing because of the distressing situations and suffering that they frequently encounter there. It can be extremely stressful for nurses to constantly see helpless infants in danger and their upset parents. They must possess emotional stability and be able to handle the pressure by remaining positive, upbeat, and as emotionally disengaged as they can while still expressing genuine care and concern. Due to their emotional stability, they are able to support families and maintain focus on the crucial medical challenges that face them in their line of work.


10 NICU nurse skills

A successful NICU nurse possesses the skills necessary to handle a wide range of duties, and some of the most crucial ones are as follows:

1. Attention to detail

It’s crucial to act precisely when taking measurements or administering medication when working in a medical environment. This guarantees patients receive quality care and raises the likelihood that their treatment will be successful. In order to ensure that any treatment you give a patient is safe, attention to detail also includes being aware of any medications they may already be taking.

2. Communication

As a NICU nurse, it’s crucial to be able to express yourself clearly so that you can convey important information to parents or other medical professionals. Additionally, it assists in educating parents about crucial pediatric care.

This ability helps ensure that patients receive consistent care by ensuring that everyone consulting on the treatment has the same understanding when speaking with medical personnel. Writing skills are a part of effective communication because they guarantee that any notes or records are readable.

3. Dexterity

All nursing careers require the ability to perform fine-motor tasks with your hands, including being a NICU nurse. NICU nurses perform procedures on smaller, frequently more vulnerable patients as a result of their work with newborn babies. This makes each task more precise, emphasizing the value of dexterity.

4. Empathy

A nurse’s ability to empathize with patients and their families enables them to comfort them. A sympathetic NICU nurse can connect with the parents of young patients and form a meaningful relationship with them. Additionally, empathy can assist NICU nurses in identifying patient distress symptoms and modifying care as necessary.

5. Endurance

Nurses frequently put in long shifts, including 12-hour sessions and on-call times. A nurse’s ability to maintain peak performance for the duration of a shift depends on their physical stamina. Precise movements and standing for extended periods of time are sometimes necessary when working in a NICU unit.

6. Multitasking

A nurse often has to complete several tasks at once. When treating multiple patients simultaneously or when one patient needs multiple tasks performed for them, such as performing an operation while also checking their oxygen levels, this may occur.

Being able to multitask increases the amount of effective care you can give patients while allowing you to work on multiple tasks at once without compromising care quality.

7. Poise

Poise enables a nurse to maintain composure in demanding circumstances, which can occur frequently in a NICU. This enables you to maintain focus and function at your peak under pressure. Poise also enables a nurse to assist patients during stressful times in their care.

8. Positive attitude

A critical ability that can improve a patient’s and their family’s experience in the hospital is maintaining a positive outlook. Because parents may experience more stress when their child is in the NICU, having a positive attitude with them can be beneficial. The nurse can maintain a positive outlook by adopting this attitude even when dealing with difficult medical situations.

9. Specialized medical skills and knowledge

Patients frequently receive critical care from nurses, who also keep an eye on them while they’re in the hospital. A NICU nurse frequently has a thorough understanding of the procedures, tests, and significant patient indicators that can point to a potential issue. A nurse’s medical knowledge enables her to recognize a potential symptom and use it to administer care when necessary.

NICU nurses have specialized training to know how to care for babies. NICU nurses are prohibited from asking infant patients questions to spot potential problems in addition to having access to different procedures and medications to account for babies’ special needs. This highlights how crucial it is for the NICU nurse to possess the knowledge and abilities to decipher visual data and medical readings.

10. Teamwork

Many hospital employees work multiple shifts as part of the medical staff caring for a patient. It is beneficial for all medical staff members to work well together in order to provide the patient with the best care possible. A NICU nurse with strong teamwork abilities can use these abilities when collaborating on patient care and when speaking with a doctor about treatment plans.

What does a NICU nurse do?

A nurse with expertise in providing care for newborns and expectant mothers is known as a NICU nurse. Working in a neonatal intensive care unit may require you to provide both routine and emergency care as part of your NICU nursing career. Common responsibilities for a NICU nurse include:

Tips to improve your NICU nurse skills

Consider honing your nursing techniques while working as a NICU nurse. Enhancing your abilities not only helps you advance professionally, but it also enables you to provide patients with better care. Here are some practical ways to hone your NICU nursing abilities:

1. Learn by doing

Practice makes perfect, and this rule holds true for many of the most crucial NICU nursing skills. When working, show initiative by offering to treat patients or carry out procedures as needed. This aids in your skill acquisition, development, and improvement.

2. Watch others

It’s helpful to use others as examples when working on improving oneself. If you have peers who are experts in a skill you want to develop, observe how they use it and note what you could do differently. For instance, watching a coworker intubate a patient could teach you how to position the child in a way that will make the procedure simpler and more comfortable.

3. Ask for opinions

It can be helpful to get a second opinion on how you’re doing because other medical professionals might spot things you should work on. If you have peers whose opinions you value, you might ask them for a fair assessment of your performance and areas where they think you can improve in addition to working to address criticism from performance reviews with your supervisor.

4. Find a mentor

Your superiors or more seasoned coworkers are a great source for advice on how to improve your skills. In a mentoring relationship, a more knowledgeable nurse can offer you advice as you advance. Your mentor might offer career guidance on how to improve your abilities and assist you in using them by supervising procedures or patient visits while giving you advice.

5. Pay attention to your patients

There aren’t many metrics for direct performance evaluation for interpersonal abilities that can help you succeed. Paying attention to the reactions of your patients and their families is an efficient way to gauge and enhance your interpersonal skills. You can tailor your approach to be as pleasant as possible for patients and their loved ones by taking note of what behaviors seem to ease their stress and which seem to increase it.


What makes a great NICU nurse?

Neonatal nurses must love working with infants and their families and be able to thrive in the NICU’s high-stress, quick-paced environment. For the duration of every shift, these nurses must be attentive and mentally quick.

What does a nurse do in the NICU?

To ensure that seriously ill or premature infants are breathing and developing normally, NICU nurses continuously check their vital signs. Additionally, they give medications, keep track of the infant’s development and recovery, change diapers, and comfort distressed babies.

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