Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) – Education, Licensure & Salary

In 2020 one in 10 babies born in the US was born before 37 weeks gestation and considered premature. These babies need specialized care to survive and thrive. Among the many providers who attend to premature babies are skilled neonatal practitioners (NNPs). Like nurses, they can monitor patients, administer medications, and educate families. However, because of their additional training and education, they have more responsibilities and autonomy. They can order diagnostic tests, interpret results, prescribe medications, and admit and discharge patients.

A career as an NNP can be both immensely rewarding and challenging. Families facing a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) need a lot of support, not to mention the high level of medical care premature babies require. To become an NNP, one must first become a licensed registered nurse by completing a nursing program and obtaining state licensure. 

Many aspiring NNPs then go on to work in NICUs to gain experience in this field. After working in the field for a few years, nurses can complete a neonatal nurse practitioner master’s of science in nursing, doctor of nursing practice, or post-master’s certificate. These programs take 18 months to four years to complete, depending on the level of degree pursued. Programs are offered in person and online to suit the needs of individual students. Online programs can often be completed while still working full-time. In addition to didactic coursework, all students will complete clinical rotations. 

NNPs must have a national certification and state license to practice. The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) certification for professionals who want to work in this field. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis, so requirements can vary. Most states require candidates to have national certification and proof of completing an advanced degree in this field. More details about licensure and certification can be found below. 

A neonatal nurse practitioner career can be personally and professionally rewarding. Before starting this professional path, use the guide below to understand the educational requirements, licensure process, and average salary expectations.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

A career as an NNP starts with becoming a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, one must first complete an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). These general education nursing programs prepare nurses for licensure and entry-level work in the field. 

Once a nurse has completed their ADN or BSN, they will need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This comprehensive exam measures a nurse’s knowledge and skill in caring for patients. After passing the exam, nurses can apply for a registered nurse license from their state’s nursing board.

Many aspiring NNPs find entry-level work in NICUs to gain hands-on experience caring for the tiniest patients. The next step in this career is to complete a master of science in nursing (MSN), doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or post-master’s certificate focusing on neonatal care nursing. This advanced degree provides nurses with the skills and knowledge to expertly care for patients in the NICU, often without direct supervision from a physician. 

However, a degree is not enough. Aspiring NNPs must obtain national certification as a  Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) from the National Certification Corporation (NCC) and a state license as a nurse practitioner or advanced practice registered nurse. The requirements for certification and licensure are detailed below.

What Does a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Do?

Since NNPs’ primary duty is to care for sick and premature newborns requiring close monitoring and specialized medical treatment, most work in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Day-to-day duties of working in a NICU can include:

  • Monitoring the health of premature or high-risk infants
  • Providing medical care and treatment
  • Educating parents and caregivers about caring for their children
  • Consulting with other healthcare professionals about the care necessary for this unique population
  • Administering medication 
  • Ordering or performing diagnostic tests 
  • Admitting and discharging patients

How Much Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNP) Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track salary data for nurse practitioner specialties but rather combines them into one general category. According to the BLS (May 2021), nurse practitioners earn $118,040 annually. For more specific data compensation, aggregate websites can provide more details. According to (2023), here are the percentiles for earnings for NNPs:

  • 10th percentile: $111,111
  • 25th percentile: $120,780
  • 50th  percentile (median): $131,400
  • 75th percentile: $142,070
  • 90th percentile: $151,784

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Licensure and Certification Requirements

NNP Licensing

All practicing NNPs must have a license as a nurse practitioner (NP) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) to practice in the state where they are providing care. Requirements vary from state to state, although some qualifications are relatively universal. In general, state nursing boards will require candidates for NP or APRN licenses to:

  • Hold a current, active, and unencumbered registered nursing license in that state
  • Complete an accredited or approved graduate-level nurse practitioner program
  • Hold a national certification, such as the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) from the National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • Submit a completed application along with application and licensing fees
  • Pass a background
  • Have a clean drug screen

NNP Certifications and Eligibility

The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) certification for aspiring NNPs. To be eligible for this certification, candidates must:

  • Have a current, active, and unencumbered nursing or advanced practice nursing license in the US
  • Graduate from an accredited master’s, doctor of nursing practice, or post-master’s certificate nurse practitioner program that meets NCC program requirements and prepares neonatal nurse practitioners
  • Apply to sit for the exam within eight years of graduating from your program

NNP Certification Renewal

Every three years, NNP-BC certificate holders must apply to renew their certification. 

To be eligible for renewal, candidates must have a current, active, and unencumbered nursing or advanced practice nursing license. They must also complete the Continuing Competency Assessment and subsequently earn continuing education credits based on the outcome of the assessment. They must also submit a completed maintenance plan.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Thanks to her experience writing in healthcare, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth articles on timely topics for since 2022. Her aim is to assist both students and professionals in navigating the intricate process of selecting a nursing program and understanding the ever-evolving realm of nursing education.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.