As an RN, you may have worked in many jobs with many different patient populations. If the thought of assisting female patients during pregnancy and childbirth holds appeal for you, it may be time to consider a career change to that of an OB nurse.
Registered nurses who care for women during pregnancy, labor and childbirth are obstetrics (OB) nurses. These nurses also work with female patients long-term, from puberty to post-menopause, providing the best female reproductive health care available. OB nurses are also sometimes called OB/GYN nurses.
Obstetrics nurses assist gynecologists and obstetricians with many important functions during a woman’s pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. An OB nurse can assist with exams and procedures including pelvic exams, ultrasounds, laboratory sample collections and prenatal screenings. The OB nurse will also typically assist the patient with pregnancy and weight management, as well as any pain management that is needed.
Once the baby is born, the OB nurse will be in the delivery room to weigh, measure, clean and monitor the infant and also help the new mother with post-labor recovery. During difficult pregnancies and deliveries, the OB nurse will support the mother in understanding her own health status as well as the health status of the fetus or baby.
OB nurses can also care for a woman outside of pregnancy by providing important health screenings like mammograms and teaching patients about reproductive health and birth control options.
OB nurses often work in a variety of healthcare settings including OB/GYN physician offices, hospitals, urgent care clinics and community clinics. They can also work in private birthing centers and midwife practices, as well as in family planning centers.
Females need tremendous medical care during and after pregnancy, and obstetrics nurses fill that role. The specific roles and responsibilities of OB nurses vary depending on their place of employment but can include all aspects of pregnancy and newborn care as well as education regarding physical and sexual health, birth control, mammograms, HPV and cervical cancer screenings.
OB nurses work side by side with doctors to ensure the best health for their female patients. Education is a big aspect of caring for a woman during pregnancy. OB nurses are ever-present at all the regular pregnancy checkups. In fact, OB nurses often guide the woman through the entire pregnancy, teaching them to prepare physically and emotionally for the birth. OB nurses can also provide patient education on various fertility treatments.
Once the woman goes into labor, the OB nurse is in the delivery room assisting doctors and coaching the mom. OB nurses are well versed to handle emergencies that may happen during delivery.
To become an OB nurse you must first be a registered nurse. You will also need some experience working in obstetrics, labor and delivery or gynecology, which experience most nurses gain by working in a maternity ward or in a physician’s office.
Some RNs become trained labor coaches or doulas, who provide coaching and support in a non-medical role to pregnant women. Being a doula can provide the extra experience needed to become an OB nurse. Above all, you should genuinely want to help and care for women and newborn babies.
While you can work as an OB nurse with an associate degree in nursing (ADN), many employers will likely require you to have a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. With a BSN degree, you will have more job opportunities and your employer may provide options for you to earn an advanced degree beyond your BSN.
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) exam and become a licensed RN, you should gain experience as a staff nurse and get additional clinical experience in an area of female health.
It is also possible to earn certifications in areas of female health, such as obstetrics, gynecology, labor & delivery nursing or perinatal care. For example, the National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers the RNC-OB certification, also called the Inpatient Obstetric Nursing certification for OB nurses. RNs with two years of obstetrics experience and 2,000 hours of clinical experience can sit for the certification examination. Once you obtain it, you will be a fully certified obstetrics nurse.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the general nursing field is very fast growing. Overall, nursing jobs are expected to grow an average of 16 percent over the next few years. This growth is being fueled by the large number or RNs (about 33 percent) who are of retirement age.
Because of the advanced certification that OB nurses have, they can expect to earn in the $62,000 to $78,000 annual salary range. The national average is about $68,500. It is important to know that many factors can determine your overall salary including location, experience, education level and type of facility you work in.
Many OB nurses choose to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). They work in at least one of the recognized advanced practice roles, such as Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), or one of the other roles such as Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP), or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). APRNs can become certified in obstetrics and can work specifically with the female population.
APRNs have an expanded nursing role which includes interpreting diagnostic tests and scans like mammography and consulting with physicians regarding patient care. Many APRNs in obstetrics can make up to $85,000 annually. The BLS reports that of all the nursing professions, APRNs are and will continue to be the most in-demand throughout the next decade.
RNs can typically find a lot of job variety in the obstetrics field. In general, there are three areas of specialty. Nurses often stay within their chosen specialty area, but at larger hospitals, they may also have the flexibility to rotate into the other two areas.
Labor and Delivery (L&D) is the first specialty area. RNs in L&D care for the mother through delivery. Typical duties include monitoring contractions and the baby’s health and stress level. An L&D nurse is also versed in assisting surgeons in cesarean section births. These nurses also care for mothers who are hospitalized before delivery due to early labor or other pregnancy or health complications. In fact, nurses quite often assist in safely stopping premature labor to improve the baby’s chances of having fewer complications.
Maternity Care is another focus area, where the nurse cares for the mother after delivery, particularly when the mother might experience complications after birth. These nurses closely monitor the mother’s vital signs as well as uterine feel and vaginal bleeding in order to prevent further complications. OB nurses are also very experienced in post-delivery pain management and also provide education regarding care of the newborn and breastfeeding.
Newborn Care is the third specialty. OB nurses care for babies after delivery and monitor the infant during his or her entire hospital stay. The OB nurse plays a critical role in determining the baby’s health so that he or she can safely go home. OB nurses are highly trained to recognize any birth defects or congenital problems shortly after birth, and they play a critical communication role with physicians to refer the baby to more specialized neonatal care if needed. Many hospitals offer various levels of neonatal care, and OB nurses are experts in recognizing issues and referring the newborn to the proper level of care.
More and more, hospitals desire to hire OB nurses with BSN degrees. To work in any of these specialties, nurses must have a valid Basic CPR course completion, and many also obtain the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification as well as the certification in Neonatal Advanced Life Support (NALS). Many nurses desiring to enter the obstetrics field generally start out working as a maternity nurse, then move into neonatal or L&D departments, both of which tend to require more experience.
Many OB nurses find career satisfaction by working as locum tenens or traveling nurses. By traveling, you can adapt your nursing skills to work with different patient populations around the country. You may work with older mothers, single mothers, younger mothers, moms who are adopting or same-sex parents. You may work with mothers having twins, triplets or multiple gestational pregnancies.
What are my career options as an OB nurse?OB nurses can work in many types of healthcare facilities as a maternity nurse, labor and delivery nurse, or neonatal nurse.
Can I change to another specialty later in my career?Yes, you can. You will need to have general RN experience and desired experience working in the obstetrics field. Many RNs start out in the maternity ward and later move into L&D when they have more experience.
Can I earn an advanced degree or certification?OB nurses can become APRNs or advanced practice registered nurses by obtaining more education and certification.
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Having a career as an OB nurse and helping women through one of the most important times in their lives can be very rewarding. If you ask most women who have gone through childbirth, most remember a kind, caring and compassionate nurse who helped them through labor, delivery, and recovery. If you want to work with mothers and their newborns, this is a path you should definitely explore. Contact us today for more information on how you can join the OB team!