Online Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Programs

“I love my job. Even on days that are challenging, I can leave my shift knowing I have made a positive impact on my patients and their families’ lives.”

Gretchen Hamn, Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the NNP Program, Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences

While the population of the United States is highly diverse in terms of background, life experiences, and attitudes, one commonality unites all of us: at one point in time, we were all infants. 

In contrast to other species, our children are born into the world needing constant supervision and nurturing. They depend on their parents or caregivers for food, shelter, and many other needs. Among those needs is medical attention, a vital part of the infant years. Babies are susceptible to infections, allergies, and other illnesses, as their immune systems and bodies are still developing. 

Some infants are born with particular medical needs, due to inherited conditions, premature arrival, or birth defects. Babies require the attention of highly trained professionals, who are not only trained in the host of illnesses and needs particular to the newly born but also the medical equipment and practices that allow them to grow into healthy adults. 

Premature babies face many obstacles to their development, as they leave the womb too early to develop the physical attributes necessary to survival. However, in the last couple of decades, the care for premature babies has improved significantly, with survival rates improving decade over decade since the inception of premature infant care. 

According to a 2022 article published by the Stanford School of Medicine, the years between 2013 and 2018 have shown higher survival rates for even the most complex cases. For children born at 23 weeks, the study shows a survival rate of 55 percent—a figure that would be unheard of even just a few decades before. Through so-called incubators, a piece of complex medical equipment, it is now possible to adequately simulate conditions in the womb to a point in which survival may be much more likely for many infants who arrive too early. 

But who is responsible for the medical care of infants? In addition to physicians, much of the critical and complex work that is necessary to ensure the survival of babies at all levels of care is done by neonatal nurse practitioners, a specialized group of nurses who are trained in both the medical knowledge needed to provide this care, as well as in the use of the equipment and processes it requires. This guide is intended to assist individuals who are interested in entering this challenging field, and in particular to those who are looking for online options for their education. 

Ask the Expert: Gretchen Hamn, MSN, APRN, NNP-BC

Gretchen Hamn is an assistant clinical professor and director of the neonatal nurse practitioner program at Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences. She earned her BSN from the University of St. Joseph and her MSN from Northeastern University. 

Hamn is a S.T.A.B.L.E Certified Instructor, a board-certified neonatal nurse practitioner, and a neonatal resuscitation provider. Her research interests include family-integrated care, substance-exposed newborns, and NICU feeding practices. What is something you wish the public understood about neonatal care and/or NNPs?

Hamn: When people learn what I do for work they often respond with, “Oh, how do you do that? It must be so hard to work with those tiny sick babies.” My answer is always the same, “I love my job!” During my routine workday, I am a part of families starting with the birth of their first, second, or even eighth child. It is truly a miracle each time. 

When something goes wrong during the pregnancy or delivery, I am there to provide the expertise and care to those infants and families in need. There are times when babies do not survive, and those are certainly difficult days, but I learn something from each of those babies. Their short life made an impact on me as well as the care and compassion I provide to my future patients. 

The best part of my job is watching my patients grow, thrive, and finally go home. Families are such a blessing in keeping in touch so that I can see the baby grow up. Recently, I went to lunch with a former family. I’d cared for their twin daughters, who were born at 24 weeks gestation. Gina did not survive as she was born extremely prematurely but also was born with Trisomy 21. I am still in contact with Gina’s family and her twin sister, Julianna. Julianna is now a junior in college—I love seeing how healthy, happy, and thriving she is. Julie is just one of the many patients who I still have contact with, and find joy in watching her live her best life. What advice would you give to aspiring NNP students? 

Hamn: Many people start to consider their options when looking at returning to school. I have many applicants ask me if they should think broader and focus their studies as a pediatric nurse practitioner. I always ask the same question, “What is your goal?” If you are looking to work in the NICU setting then my answer is always, “No.” 

As an NNP, you are receiving an education that no other APRN specialty receives. During your schooling you will learn about the fetal growth and development, genetics, and the impact on our patient population as well as the growth and development of neonates from 22 weeks gestation through two years of age. Upon completion of your program, you truly are a specialized APRN who can provide the necessary interventions to support the growth of a healthy infant from preterm birth through discharge home. 

I love my job. Even on days that are challenging, I can leave my shift knowing I have made a positive impact on my patients and their families’ lives. What does the future of neonatal care and/or the NNP role look like to you? 

Hamn: Healthcare is ever-changing. The need for NNPs continues to grow as many are choosing to seek pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) or family nurse practitioner (FNP) degrees. The PNP and FNP are not appropriately trained to care for our at-risk population in the NICU. There is a great need for NNPs nationally, and this need will continue to grow as technology improves and we are able to care for sicker infants while supporting their neurodevelopmental needs. 

NNPs mainly work in the newborn intensive care but are also employed in newborn nurseries; some have ventured out into private practice, providing a great bridge from the NICU to home for the babies and families with ongoing special needs. 

Pediatric offices often will hire NNPs to provide follow-up care to infants through the first two years of life—providing support and monitoring for normal growth and development. What many see as a limited APRN role is actually a very broad and exciting role that will bring much satisfaction and joy to your life.

Admissions Requirements for Online Master’s Programs for Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners represent an advanced qualification within the world of nursing, making this career goal a long-term investment for those who choose to pursue it. While the specific admissions requirements will vary by some degree across different programs, they will all share one commonality: the requirement for all applicants to hold a license as a registered nurse. Becoming a registered nurse is in itself a highly rigorous process with multiple steps, which are outlined below:

1. Attain an Undergraduate Nursing Degree (Two to Four Years)

The first step in becoming a registered nurse is to attain a degree in nursing from an accredited institution. While some employers and states only require applicants to complete an associate’s degree in nursing, the model in many states is currently moving towards the higher qualification that is provided by a bachelor’s of science in nursing

2. Attain RN Licensure and Gain Professional Experience (Timeline Varies)

As a licensed profession whose practitioners are oftentimes tasked with vital and life-saving care, all registered nurses in the United States must be licensed through the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Typically referred to by its acronym NCLEX, or NCLEX-RN, this rigorous examination ensures that recent graduates have the necessary knowledge and skills to practice their profession safely and professionally. 

While states typically only require registered nurses to pass the NCLEX-RN a single time, remedial classes or a re-examination may be required of individuals who have not practiced in some years. Some states allow prospective RNs to take the examination multiple times, while some, such as Florida, will make prospects go back to school if they fail the examination multiple times. 

3. Attend a Neonatal NP Program (Two Years or More)

Individuals interested in becoming neonatal nurse practitioners typically need help entering a program directly. Still, they must work as nurses with neonates for at least two years before they begin applying for a nurse practitioner program. This is intended to ensure that future nurse practitioners have collected real-world experience as an RN, are familiar with the workdays of clinics, hospitals, or other medical facilities, and have had a significant amount of contact with patients entrusted to their care. 

In addition to meeting these qualifying requirements, prospective nurse practitioners should expect to provide the following for their applications:

  • Nursing program transcripts and copy of diploma
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • Proof of two years or more of qualifying employment as a nurse with neonates
  • Application letter
  • Application fee

NNP programs include master of science in nursing (MSN), doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or post-master’s certificates for working NPs changing specializations.

4. Seek Professional Certification (Timeline Varies)

In addition to completing the neonatal nurse practitioner program of their choice, prospective NNPs should also be aware of the fact that there will be two additional steps following graduation from an accredited program: passing the neonatal nurse practitioner examination that is administered by the National Certification Corporation (NCC), as well as the respective certification exam for this role that is required by their particular state. 

All neonatal nurse practitioners will also be required to pass this examination again every three years, to ensure that their knowledge and skillset are up to par with the requirements set by their state and the licensing bodies.

What Does the Curriculum of an Online Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program Look Like?

While the particular curricula of every program will differ, online neonatal nurse practitioner programs from a fully accredited and certified institution are comparable to those held in person. Some programs will require students to attend one or several in-person events throughout their study, while others are administered entirely online. An additional difference may be found in how individual institutions handle requirements for practicum hours and internships, as these are quite often a component of their degree plans. 

The following list of courses is taken from the fact sheet provided by Regis University, which hosts a fully online program for NNPs. While this should not be used to apply to all online neonatal nurse practitioner programs, it reflects the course load and emphasis of a typical NNP program:

  • Research in Nursing
  • Genetics and Embryology for the NNP
  • Ethics and Society
  • Health Care Policy
  • Advanced Practice Procedures for the High-Risk Infant 
  • Clinical Management of the High-Risk Infant
  • Theoretical Frameworks

Online Master’s Degrees – Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Programs

As online learning has gone from a niche practice limited to a small number of courses or general education requirements to becoming widely accepted and sought after, options for prospective nurse practitioners have also increased. While highly specialized courses of study such as those required of neonatal nurse practitioners may still be somewhat limited, the options are sure to increase for students who are looking for options that provide them with the flexibility that they may need to provide care for children or dependents or to coincide with a career. 

While not exhaustive, the following online neonatal nurse practitioner programs are fully certified and accredited and should provide some orientation to individuals looking to pursue this career path through online learning. 

MSN Programs

The following programs offer online courses to lead to a master’s in nursing or MSN degree:

University of Connecticut 

The University of Connecticut offers a master’s of science degree with 44 credits. While the instruction is fully online, UC requires two campus visits over the course of study and the completion of a practicum in a neonatal care unit. 

Additionally, students can expand their course load to attain a doctor of nursing degree through the program, for 76 to 82 credits are required for this advanced track. The University of Connecticut’s neonatal nursing program allows students to study full-time and part-time and offers entry during the spring, fall, or summer semesters.

  • Location: Storrs, CT
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Regis University

Regis University is a Jesuit institution in Denver, Colorado, with a robust online education program. Its master of science in nursing program is a hybrid model, in which the MS program is largely administered in person, and a doctoral track that is fully online. 

This program includes 630 hours of supervised clinical hours. However, this may take place at a student’s place of employment, which allows students to combine their ongoing work as RNs in their place of residence with the online components of the program.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 to 48 months

Northeastern University 

Northeastern University in Charlotte, North Carolina offers an online program in neonatal nursing. This program is strongly geared towards prospective nurse practitioners with a strong interest in working in neonatal intensive care units or NICUS, which provide care for the most challenging cases, including infants who are born prematurely. 

In addition to admitting only students with a “B” average in their RN studies, Northeastern requires applicants to have at least two years of experience working as registered nurses and hold a bachelor’s of science in nursing. 

  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Blended or Hybrid Practitioner Programs

The following programs offer a path to a nurse practitioner credential:

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri is a public institution in Columbia, Missouri, and offers a “blended” NNP program for prospective nurse practitioners interested in neonatal care. The program is offered full-time or part-time and requires occasional campus visits and the completion of supervised clinical hours to attain graduation. 

UM features courses in intercultural communication that are aimed at helping practitioners effectively speak to families and caregivers from different backgrounds. 

  • Location: Columbia, MS
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

University of Indiana

The University of Indiana offers a hybrid program for neonatal nurse practitioners in which students can complete their core courses through the distance learning program, and then have a choice of medical facilities across the state of Indiana in which they may complete the practical component of their education. 

  • Location: Columbia, MS
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Jobs for Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

There are a variety of jobs available to neonatal nurse practitioners. The following selection explains a few of them:

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

The neonatal intensive care unit is where newborns with the most severe health problems are treated. Work in a neonatal intensive care unit may involve working with premature babies, children with major birth defects, or infants who have been victims of a severe accident. Work in any intensive care unit is likely to be fast-paced, challenging, and can involve high stress levels, but it is one of the most rewarding areas of neonatal care. 

Delivery Room

Delivery nurses may represent the best-known job among fully certified NNPs. Work in the delivery room can involve preparing a mother to give birth and induce delivery. Neonatal nurses working in this capacity are often the first to hold a baby and are responsible for checking vital signs and running the necessary diagnostic tests to ensure that the infant is healthy. 

Pediatric Hospital 

Pediatric hospitalist is a catch-all term to describe the trained professionals who work in hospital settings and work with children. NNPs working as pediatric hospitalists may be on call to assist in the delivery room, the neonatal intensive care unit, or to work in the emergency room to treat incoming infants and small children. 

Johannes Stitz

Johannes Stitz


Johannes Stitz is a freelance writer and researcher based in the Southwest. He’s written about various topics in medical technology careers. Before turning to freelance writing, he spent nearly a decade in the arts as a booker and event manager.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog


Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about the modern nursing workforce, conducting hundreds of interviews with nurse leaders, nurse educators, and nurse advocates to explore the issues that matter to them most. His Advocates to Know series focuses on nurse practitioners (NPs) who go above and beyond in changing policy and practice in important areas like veteran’s care, human trafficking prevention, and telehealth access. He regularly collaborates with subject matter experts from the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) to elevate issues that empower nurses everywhere.