5 Key Differences Between NICU Nurses and Nursery Nurses

The role of a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and nursery are both rewarding and challenging. Both nurses provide care to newborns who have a wide range of needs. In order to provide the best care possible, it is important to understand the differences between a NICU nurse and a nursery nurse. This blog post will explore the differences in training, responsibilities, and work environments between a NICU nurse and a nursery nurse, providing a better understanding of the two types of nurses and their roles in the care of newborns.

Nursery nurses may also sometimes work in level II nurseries, also known as special care nurseries. Newborns in level II nurseries may require constant monitoring to make sure their condition remains stable. NICU nurses typically work in level III and IV nurseries, also known as neonatal intensive care units.

What is a NICU nurse?

A nurse who provides critical and specialized care for newborns and infants is known as a NICU nurse, or neonatal intensive care unit nurse. The majority of nurses in this specialty practice in hospitals and other settings with equipment specifically designed for the care of premature babies or newborns with medical conditions. The care of infants who are born prematurely or with conditions that may require ongoing monitoring, specialized treatment, or surgery is frequently provided by nurses with specialized training in NICUs. Most NICU nurses work in level III or level IV hospitals.

What are the nursery levels?

Nurses are frequently required to complete tasks that range in complexity and urgency at each of the four levels of nurseries. Newborns with the most urgent and complex needs are cared for in Levels III and IV nurseries. Newborns with some medical needs who may not need urgent care are cared for in level II nurseries, while those with the least complex needs are cared for in level I nurseries. However, some hospitals only have three levels of nurseries, so they are left to handle the most difficult cases.

What is a nursery nurse?

A nursery nurse, also known as a neonatal nurse, is a professional who tends to newborns and young children who aren’t usually admitted to the intensive care unit. They provide standard postpartum care and may look after some newborns and babies with special needs, but they hardly ever deal with serious illnesses. They frequently transfer newborns and infants who develop problems that could result in life-threatening illnesses to the intensive care nurseries for additional care. Nursery nurses are qualified to recognize complex needs when they arise and are well-equipped to handle many of them, even though they may not directly treat complex cases.

What is the difference between a NICU nurse and a nursery nurse?

The following is a list of typical distinctions between nursery nurses and NICU nurses:

Work environments

Level I nurseries, also known as well-baby nurseries, are places where nursery nurses frequently work. A late-preterm baby is a newborn who was born after 35 weeks of pregnancy and may have been in this nursery. Most newborns in these settings can breathe on their own and can receive milk using conventional methods. Level II nurseries, also referred to as special care nurseries, may occasionally employ nursery nurses. In level II nurseries, newborns may need ongoing observation to ensure that their conditions are stable.

Neonatal intensive care units, also known as level III and IV nurseries, are where NICU nurses typically work. Infants in level III nurseries typically arrive between 27 and 35 weeks, and some may need intravenous fluids for nutrition or respiratory support to breathe. In level IV nurseries, newborns typically arrive between 22 and 27 weeks of pregnancy and may need intensive care, including extracorporeal mechanical oxygenation for breathing support. These environments may allow for the retention of newborns until they are strong enough to breathe independently and to ingest milk.

Job duties

Nursery nurses often conduct health assessments and newborn screenings. At least 29 medical conditions, including congenital hypothyroidism (CH) and congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), are typically screened for during these examinations. They are frequently in charge of deciding when a newborn’s condition requires the attention of doctors and nurses who specialize in intensive care. Nursery nurses frequently communicate with the families of their patients to update them on their condition.

Additionally, NICU nurses may carry out standard examinations and screenings as well as more difficult treatments and procedures. While keeping an eye on their pulse, blood pressure, and blood oxygenation levels, they might use respiratory machines. These nurseries’ NICU staff members may assist with newborn surgeries, such as heart operations for those with congenital heart disease. NICU nurses frequently communicate with the families of their patients to update them on the infants’ current condition.


Before working in a medical facility, both NICU nurses and nursery nurses frequently earn nursing degrees. Nursery nurses and NICU nurses may enroll in different, more complex and specialized programs. Courses in thermoregulation, fluids and electrolytes, nutrition and feeding, oxygenation, medication therapies, pharmacological principles, and developmental care are available for NICU nurses to enroll in.

Many of these same courses may also be taken by nursery nurses, but they frequently lack the necessary educational background to begin working in neonatal intensive care units as soon as they graduate. Additionally, they could take classes in patient safety, risk assessment, gestational age and physical assessment, ethics, and professional practice standards.


Nursery nurses are trained to identify common illnesses, administer standard treatments, and determine when newborns and young children need specialized care. Additionally, these nurses frequently earn specialized nursing degrees that include instruction in caring for premature newborns. As they develop their abilities and experience, many nursery nurses may transition to becoming NICU nurses. The majority of NICU nurses have experience caring for healthy newborns, but they are also trained to handle complex patient needs. They might have knowledge of advanced life support, experience performing neonatal resuscitation, and surgical experience.


NICU nurses and nursery nurses frequently obtain a number of certifications to increase their level of expertise in their field. The Neonatal Resuscitation Program certification, the Pediatric Advanced Life Support certification, and the S T. A. B. L. E. neonatal postresuscitation stabilization certification. When working in level I or II nurseries, nursery nurses may not have these certifications because their roles may not require them to care for seriously ill patients.


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What is the difference between a neonatal nurse and a nursery nurse?

A nurse who assists in the early care and delivery of infants is known as a nursery nurse. These medical professionals, sometimes known as neonatal nurses, work in hospitals. If you enjoy working with children and are interested in medicine, you might want to think about becoming a nursery nurse.

What’s the difference between special care nursery vs NICU?

An SCN is distinct from a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where the infants need closer monitoring and care because they are more seriously ill or premature. Your baby’s health is more stable and they are stronger in an SCN than they would be in a NICU.

What type of nurse works in the nursery?

When caring for newborns and infants, a nursery nurse is typically a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Nursery nurses typically work in hospital nurseries, as the title suggests, but some also work in outpatient clinics or private homes, caring for infants who are ill at home.

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