Both paediatric and neonatal nurses play vital roles in providing essential healthcare to children. As a paediatric nurse, your responsibilities will be to care for children of all ages however, as a neonatal nurse, you will be caring for infants who require a specialised type of care.

When choosing which of these career paths would best suit you, it’s important to be aware of some of the key differences between a paediatric and neonatal nurse, which could help you determine which speciality would be preferred to your skills and requirements.

What is a paediatric nurse?

A paediatric nurse is a healthcare professional whose primary responsibilities are to care for infants, children and young people who have physical disabilities or developmental, social or behavioural issues, up to the age of 18. You may sometimes work in either a hospital setting, caring for sick or injured children, or assisting paediatricians at doctor’s offices. Paediatric nurses can also be called upon when children need appointments such as vaccinations, as opposed to seeing a doctor. Other duties could include, but are not limited to:

  • Checking and monitoring patients’ vital signs and treating minor illnesses
  • Offering paediatric healthcare advice to parents and guardians
  • Running a series of necessary tests to be sent for laboratory evaluation
  • Helping paediatricians develop patient care plans
  • providing medication and other treatments to patients

What is a neonatal nurse?

A neonatal nurse is a registered nurse who cares for newborns up to the age of four weeks old. Working in this profession, it’s important to know many neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) patients have serious medical conditions or worries which can make them more vulnerable due to their age and size. Due to this intense level of care, it is vital neonatal nurses can execute the proper care necessary to help these more specialised patients get better. You will often be treating babies with either birth defects, genetic disorders or prematurely born babies. Typically, hospitals categorise neonatal patients into four levels which are based off the severity of their conditions/needs.

  • Level I: Basic care for healthy newborns without specific medical concerns
  • Level II: Care for babies born at or after 32 weeks gestation with moderate illnesses
  • Level III: Care for babies born before 32 weeks gestation with significant health concerns
  • Level IV: Highest level of intensive care for babies with critical health problems that may require surgery

What are some of the key difference between these two professions?

Working in either one of these nursing specialties, you would have chosen this career path because of your desire to want to help care for unwell children. However, even though in both specialties there are many similarities, both professions require a specific set of skills and knowledge that allow you to treat children in difference age groups accordingly.

Education and qualifications

Before you become a fully qualified paediatric or neonatal nurse, you will have to go through nursing school and become a Registered General Nurse in as little as 2 years. Most hospitals however require registered nurses to complete a bachelor’s degree before being allowed to practice. Your coursework and practical skills will all help you work towards graduating, however after this you will then have to pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) after graduating in order to obtain your licence and begin gaining experience through placements and internships.

Interaction with patients

Both roles as either a paediatric or neonatal nurse require different levels of patient interaction. Due to the size and nature of the patients neonatal nurses care for, they typically handle their patients regularly, meaning their hygiene and health and safety measures must be rigorously followed to decrease the risk of infection. Neonatal nurses also communicate frequently with parents, guardians and other colleagues as the patients are too young to be able to communicate or make decisions.

Working as a paediatric nurse however is slightly different as to what is expected of them when dealing with their patients. Although the parent or guardian of each paediatric patient has the legal right to make medical decisions for them, many patients will be able to communicate with nurses to answer questions and express their needs and concerns. Each patient requires different levels of care depending on their condition, however many patients will be able to maintain their own personal hygiene.

What setting could I be working in?

As a neonatal nurse, you will be working in a hospital environment and occasionally in postpartum nurseries. Due to the babies in the NICU wards needing medical attention all hours of the day, your shift may include evenings, days, weekends and holidays.

Paediatric nurses however, can work in either a hospital or outpatient setting and could work typically 40 hours a week depending which setting you are based in. Since outpatient concerns are usually less urgent than those needing to be in hospital, paediatric nurses tend to work in predictable environments.

Salaries and career progression

The average salary for a registered neonatal nurse is around £31,494 per year in the UK, but could make up to £60,555 the more experienced you become. Neonatal nurses also have incredible career progression opportunities and could allow you to move into management, research or advanced practices.

A paediatrics nurse however has an average salary range between £25,654 to £39,026 depending on experience. For this chosen career pathway, you could specialise in a certain field such as health visiting or school nursing, with the opportunity to also move into management, teaching or clinical research if you choose to.

Are you looking to start your career as either a paediatric or neonatal nurse? Check out our current vacancies today or speak with your recruiter for our latest opportunities.


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