How Long Does It Take to Become an NICU Nurse?

NICU nurses work with premature babies.
NICU nurses work with premature babies. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

NICU nurses work in neonatal intensive care units in hospitals and specialize in taking care of newborn babies under the supervision of neonatologists. Most newborn babies in neonatal intensive care units are born prematurely and have immune systems that have not fully developed. Some babies are born so prematurely that they need to stay in the NICU under the care of NICU nurses for several months before they’re ready to go home.

Registered Nurse

All NICU nurses must be registered nurses. Individuals can become registered nurses by completing a four-year bachelor’s degree program. After completing an accredited nursing program, nursing students must pass a national licensure test called the National Council Licensure Examination to become registered nurses. Registered nurses can work in NICUs right after graduation or enter a master’s degree program to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. Some master’s degree programs require nurses to work for a year as registered nurses before applying.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Individuals who want to become neonatal nurse practitioners must obtain Master of Science in Nursing degrees. The majority of these degree programs take between 18 and 24 months to complete, according to the All Nursing Schools website. Some schools offer a master’s degree through a two-year Advanced Practice Neonatal Nursing program, which prepares nursing students for careers as NICU nurses.


The median salary for neonatal nurse practitioners in the United States as of the time of publication was $100,440, according to The top 10 percent of neonatal nurse practitioners earned more than $117,751, and the lowest-earning 10 percent earned less than $84,956. The median salary for registered nurses (who can also work as NICU nurses) in the United States was $65,326, according to Some individuals choose to work as registered nurses in NICUs for a few years after obtaining their bachelor’s degrees rather than enrolling directly into master’s degree programs. The cost of their tuition may be covered by the hospital they work for.

Fun Facts

The first neonatal intensive care units with NICU nurses were developed in the 1960s, according to the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow website. Babies as young as 23 weeks old often stay in the NICU.

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