NICU Nurse Skills to Master

NICU nurses provide care to perhaps the most fragile of all patients — newborn babies, who may have been born prematurely and may have various medical issues, from cardiac defects to multi-system genetic disorders.

Nurses who provide neonatal care have undergone specialized training, earned certifications and have various levels of education. Find out what other skills NICU nurses should have to be successful.

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7 NICU Nurse Skills


Newborns receiving medical care in the NICU have fragile conditions that can change quickly and unexpectedly. Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC at, says that “neonatal nurses must have the ability to think critically in urgent and emergent situations and must be able to respond quickly to changes in the infant.”

If you tend to thrive working under high-pressure situations, then you may enjoy a NICU nursing career.


An ability to multitask and respond quickly to patients' health status changes requires copious amounts of on-the-job training and education.

Dr. Janice Smolowitz, the Dean of Montclair State University's School of Nursing, and Dr. Courtney Reinisch, the Director of Undergraduate Nursing at Montclair, both agree that earning a baccalaureate degree in nursing is essential to the success of NICU nurses.

“A comprehensive education that provides a strong foundation and critical thinking, application of best evidence for practice and clinical acumen with hands-on technical ability is essential.”


Drs. Smolowitz and Reinisch also agree that interpersonal skills are necessary to be successful as a NICU nurse. “Establishing a caring, professional relationship with the individuals responsible for the child's welfare is necessary to create a trusting 'patient-centered team' for a potentially extended period of time.”

Burger agrees: “A successful NICU nurse knows how to connect with family and caregivers. Many neonatal nurses speak of the deep bonds they forge with the parents, and, at times, being able to see the infant grow into a healthy child.”


Any nurse needs to be able to multitask to be able to provide patient care effectively, but it's especially important for neonatal nurses, say Drs. Smolowitz and Reinisch.

“The ability to seamlessly prioritize and delegate on a moment's notice in response to changing circumstances is a critical skill that will be utilized daily.”


Drs. Smolowitz and Reinisch also point out that for NICU nurses to succeed, they need to have a passion for caring for critically ill neonates and infants. “Working with these vulnerable babies is emotionally and physically demanding. Being able to care and advocate for these children is essential. Having the spiritual and emotional resilience to deal with loss and support the caregiving team is paramount.”


On a neonatal unit, there are many medical professionals involved in each infant's care depending on their situation. Drs. Smolowitz and Reinisch say that NICU nurses, in order to be successful, need to be able to contribute knowledge and insight as a member of an interdisciplinary team.

“Sharing nursing knowledge and insight fosters growth and development and provides anticipatory guidance to benefit the infant and caregivers.”


Since neonatal infants are such a vulnerable population, Drs. Smolowitz and Reinisch think it's important for NICU nurses to stay informed on current health policy that changes frequently. “Successful NICU nurses are acutely and intimately aware of the impact of health care policy on this vulnerable population. It is essential they engage in advancing policies that promote prevention of premature births and address health disparities.”

Burger says that the calling of the neonatal nurse is not for the faint of heart. Resilience is a large part of what makes a NICU nurse successful.

Nurses considering a career as a NICU nurse should think carefully about whether it's right for them, as the answer is deeply personal. Nurses can talk to trusted family, friends, colleagues or other advisors to help them gain insight as well.

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