Neonatal nursing is one of the most rewarding and noble professions. Having a baby in the NICU is probably one of the most terrifying experiences a family could go through. During it all, the NICU nurse is there every step of the way. Through all the ups and downs, the stressful pitfalls and the smallest victories, we as NICU nurses can all agree that we have the best job in the world.

However, the field of neonatology is constantly changing and evolving. As NICU nurses we come out of NNP school full of knowledge and the up-to-date information of current evidence-based practices. So how is it possible to keep up with the constant changes? By nature, NICU nurses are the quintessential perfect combination of a type-A, organized, attention to detail person mixed with compassion, empathy, and kindness. So, by nature, one would assume that continuing education would come easy, right? Not exactly. Why?


External Challenges

We face multiple challenges in our quest to continue our education. Some of these include: distance, time, financial factors, and competitive forces. There are classes and conferences all across the world, however, finding one that is within a drive distance can be difficult. Not to mention time. Depending on your work unit and family/work-life balance, being able to find three to seven days to leave it all behind to attend these classes or conferences can be a large barrier for many.

OK, so you have a conference/class that is close and you’re able to get the time off and it works for your family to get away to attend. However, some of these conferences/classes carry a hefty price tag. Many facilities will help pay for continuing education but some aren’t able to. Financial barriers can be a large part of continuing our education.

Depending on the model of NICUs around the nation, NNPs are often considered under the “medical staff” umbrella and as such follow similar rules and have equal education opportunities for both practitioners, physicians, residents and neonatal fellows. However, in some, the NNP is under the “nursing staff” umbrella and education models are very different between nurse practitioners and the physicians. For some, this can be problematic as classes can be readily available and offered for MD’s, but is not offered for the NNP.


Internal Challenges

As previously discussed, NNPs by nature are the go-getter, want to be the best, and do the best for our patients and families type of nurse. With that comes the inborn desire and passion to know and understand what is going on with our patients and how best to help them. This is the driving force to get continuing education. But with the sheer volume of information out there, how is one to know where to even begin in their quest for knowledge? Do you start with a physiological system or disease process? Do you focus on current research? What about public policy and how that can affect your practice and patients? What about current evidence-based practices? Do you learn about other units and compare and contrast to your own? Unfortunately, in the quest for education, there are often more questions that can lead to frustration on where to start than answers.

With the ever-changing, multi-faceted pieces of neonatal medicine and nursing, sometimes it is difficult to understand and know your own limitations/weaknesses to help guide the start of continuing education.


Where to Go from Here

The Institute of Medicine put out the report for the Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health Goals for 2020. It discusses ways of creating new opportunities, collaborating with all other specialties, and re-engaging ourselves to put us at the forefront of the future of healthcare. In the neonatal industry, there are over 20 organizations to join but nursing participation is lacking. One of the IOMs goals is to have more than 10,000 members being a part of these organizations by 2020. Although it may seem intimidating, being a member of a local, national, or international organization helps to fuel not only individual nurse education but every nurse’s continuing education.

Most States require a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain an RN license. In addition, the NCC requires a knowledge assessment with continuing education to maintain an NNP license. So, at the minimum, there is required education necessary.

In addition to the minimum maintenance requirements, the amount of availability for information is limitless. While classes and conferences are sometimes viewed as the “only” or “obvious” choice, there is so many more. Journal articles are an excellent source of information that can be obtained from the comfort of your own home with a small amount of search effort. If there is a topic you are passionate about, there are many books for both the nurse, advanced practice nurse, and physician that provides a plethora of information.

Perhaps you are a person that does best by hearing rather than reading. We are all fortunate enough to work with a wide variety of specialties with varying knowledge bases. If there is a question about a topic or disease process, ask. We’ve all heard the saying, “see one, do one, teach one.” Offering to teach a class within the unit or at a local college or even local high school class will end up giving you back more knowledge than you could imagine.  

With the abundance of information available the real question one should ask instead of “How do I overcome barriers to continuing education?” is “Why am I stopping myself from continuing to learn?”  


I have had the privilege to work alongside some of the smartest and most dedicated professionals around and have quickly learned:

  • If you want something, you’ll find a way. Otherwise, you’ll find an excuse.
  • Every day, make it your goal to learn something and teach something.

Keep these principles in mind as you move forward, continue to learn and grow, and make the future brighter for our patients and families.


Dr. Kira L. Short, DNP, NNP-BC, RN, CCRN