Do you love working with babies and are curious about what it’s like to work in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)? Are you wondering if you have what it takes to work in this special setting? 

Specific personality traits and training make for an excellent NICU nurse, but NICU nursing is not for everyone. 

By the end of this article, you will know if you have what it takes to care for the most vulnerable of patients. 

Here you will learn: 

  • What a NICU nurse does
  • Skills needed to be a NICU nurse
  • Characteristics to be a good NICU nurse
  • And much more

Table of Contents



What Does a NICU Nurse Do? 

In NICUs, nurses specialize in caring for premature newborns or those born with congenital deformities and life-threatening illnesses.

A NICU nurse is responsible for many duties, including: 

  • Continually monitoring and assessing vital signs
  • Drawing blood from patients
  • Educating parents on how to take care of their newborn following discharge
  • Ensuring IV fluids and medications are administered
  • Hands-on care 
  • 24/7 monitoring of patients
  • Providing oxygen therapy and specialized feeding techniques; and
  • Making sure ventilators and other support equipment is working correctly

What Makes a Good NICU Nurse? 

Becoming a NICU nurse is something that many nurses think they would enjoy; however, being a NICU nurse isn’t like other nursing specialties. 

It takes a special kind of person with diverse skills to do this type of nursing

Working in a neonatal unit requires you to pivot between extreme emotions. For example, one moment may be filled with joy at the birth of a child; the next may be filled with sadness and sympathy over the loss of one.

It’s important to note that while neonatal nurses and NICU nurses may seem interchangeable, their roles are not always the same.

Nurses who work with critically ill infants are known as neonatal nurses. A NICU nurse works specifically in a neonatal intensive care unit. In other words, nurses in NICUs are neonatal nurses, but not all neonatal nurses work in NICUs.


what makes a good nicu nurse


Requirements to Become a NICU Nurse

If you wish to become a NICU nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, you can earn either:

  • An associate’s degree (ADN); or
  • A bachelor’s degree (BSN)

Once you’ve graduated from your program, you must take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become board certified and receive your specific state’s nursing license.

Your first job as an RN will likely not be in the NICU. Oftentimes, nurses who wish to work in the NICU first work in pediatrics before transitioning to the NICU after gaining experience. If your hospital offers a NICU residency program, this is another great option to gain experience.

Although not required, having extra certifications might help increase your potential NICU job offers and salary.

Top 4 Characteristics Needed to Be a Good NICU Nurse

A NICU nurse’s skills must include both their professional knowledge and “soft skills”. which can be viewed as personality traits.

Let’s take a closer look at the skills needed to be a NICU nurse. 


neonatal nurse qualities


#1: Empathy

To care for the tiny, helpless children in the NICU, nurses must have the inherent characteristic of empathy.

Often, critically ill infants cannot be in direct contact with their parents due to their precarious conditions, so they require an almost maternal instinct to care for them. 

The NICU nurse must fill in the gap of the motherly role, combining emergency-quality medical skills with genuine empathy and love for the child.

Additionally, empathy allows nurses to provide comfort to patients’ families. A NICU nurse with empathy can establish a meaningful connection with the parents of young patients. 

NICU nurses can also use empathy to recognize signs of distress in patients and adjust their care accordingly.

#2: Compassion

Compassion is a deep awareness of, and sympathy for another person’s suffering without judgment. However, it has a much deeper meaning for nurses. 

Compassion in nursing means: 

  • Developing trusting relationships with patients
  • Alleviating suffering
  • Listening with care; and
  • Going beyond what most people consider the “normal” role of a nurse

Because nurses work closely with families for extended time, having compassion can go a long way.

Research has shown that a nurse’s compassion can ease a patient’s suffering. One of the reasons nurses are so critical in medical situations is their ability to offer compassion.

Being a nurse puts you on the front lines of a profession where your compassion can directly make a difference in someone’s life.

#3: Adaptability 

To succeed as a nurse, one must be adaptable.

It is imperative that nurses are capable of …

  • Anticipating
  • Responding to; and
  • Managing

 … change daily.

This is especially true with NICU nurses.

Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit must be able to think critically  to quickly assess situations involving newborns. The ability to respond to emergencies and deteriorating situations must be immediate.

NICU nurses must remain …

  • Vigilant
  • Observant; and
  • Detail-oriented

… to provide quality care to their tiny patients. 

With multiple babies in their care, they need to be adaptable so care is administered correctly to each child.

#4: Drive 

Caring and compassionate nurses are driven by a desire to help and make a difference in people’s lives. 

The best NICU nurses are passionate about helping newborns with complex medical conditions. Those who are passionate about nursing wish to make a positive impact on patients’ lives by providing comfort and care. 

Does this sound like you? Trusted Nurse Staffing can help you land the NICU nursing position of your dreams, whether you’re a first-time travel nurse or a seasoned professional.


neonatal nurse qualities


These Top 4 Skills Take NICU Nurses From Good to Great

To provide the best care possible for patients, NICU nurses must possess these four skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Multi-tasking; and
  • Interpersonal skills

#1: Critical Thinking

The concept of critical thinking extends beyond nursing knowledge.

Critical thinking involves:

  • Anticipating needs
  • Recognizing potential and actual complications; and 
  • Communicating the needs and complications effectively with colleagues

A newborn’s condition in the NICU can change quickly and unexpectedly. To assess newborn situations quickly and accurately, NICU nurses must use critical thinking skills. Nurses who are capable of critical thinking will provide better care to their patients.

Imagine being a NICU nurse with several medically fragile, infant patients. When looking at your day’s caseload, it is crucial that you can use your critical thinking skills to decide: 

  • Which patient to see first
  • Which medications to pass first; and
  • How to organize your day

#2: Communication 

Nurses in the NICU serve as mediators between doctors and parents, and infants and their parents. Therefore, they must have excellent communication skills. 

NICU nurses must be able to explain often complicated situations and terminology to parents. How comfortable would you feel if your nurse was not able to explain to you a newborn’s condition or procedures effectively? 

Additionally, parents’ concerns should also be expressed to doctors by nurses. 

One of the most important times a NICU nurse uses communication skills is upon discharge. Parents tend to be overwhelmed when their medically fragile baby can go home. At this time, the NICU nurse must instruct the parents on how to care for their baby.

A NICU nurse must be able to communicate with patience, understanding that stressed-out parents might need to repeat information several times.

#3: Multi-Tasking

Nurses often have to perform several tasks at once. 

To provide effective patient care, nurses must be able to multitask, but NICU nurses must be exceptionally competent. 

It is common to care for multiple babies simultaneously in the NICU. Therefore, there will be several medically fragile patients to care for and various duties for one baby. An example would be to place a feeding tube and monitor oxygen levels at the same time.

The ability to multitask allows you to give patients more effective treatment by working on multiple tasks simultaneously without sacrificing quality.

 #4: Interpersonal Skills

To be successful as a NICU nurse, you must possess interpersonal skills. 

In addition to all their other tasks, NICU nurses serve as a liaison between parents and medical specialists. Establishing rapport and trust with a family cannot be overstated. 

By paying attention to your patients’ and their families’ reactions, you can monitor and improve your interpersonal skills. Taking note of which behaviors put patients at ease and which seem to increase stress can help you customize your approach to be as pleasant as possible.

Nursing schools typically do not emphasize interpersonal skills as part of their curriculum. Nurses develop such skills on the job, which are often fine-tuned as their careers progress. 


nicu nurse tips


Do You Have What It Takes to Make a Good NICU Nurse and Have a Desire for Adventure? Become a NICU Nurse with Trusted Nurse Staffing Today 

Traveling as a NICU nurse can be a life-changing experience. A NICU nurse travel job can combine your passion for caring for children with your desire to travel.

Thousands of nurses just like you have found travel nursing jobs through Trusted Nurse Staffing.

In addition to travel, we offer many other benefits, like: 

  • Flexible contracts with everything from per diem to 52-week assignments
  • 24-hour access to their recruiter
  • Welcome boxes for new nurses
  • Vision and dental plans
  • And much more

Take advantage of your wanderlust and make even more money, so you can enjoy each day to the fullest. Let Trusted Nurse Staffing help you find the ideal NICU travel nurse position.


neonatal nurse qualities