Neonatology is a subspecialty of pediatrics that consists of the medical care of newborn infants, especially the ill or premature newborn infant. It is a hospital-based specialty, and is usually practiced in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). The principal patients of neonatologists are newborn infants who are ill or requiring special medical care due to prematurity, low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, congenital malformations (birth defects), sepsis, or birth asphyxias.
A neonatologist is a physician (MD or DO) practicing neonatology. To become a neonatologist, the physician initially receives training as a pediatrician, then completes an additional training called a fellowship (for 3 years in the US) in neonatology. Most, but not all neonatologists are board certified in the specialty of Pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics, and in the sub-specialty of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine also by the American Board of Pediatrics. Most countries now run similar programs for fellowship training in Neonatology.
Neonatal Nurse Practioners (NNPs) are advanced practice nurses that specialize in neonatal care. They are considered mid-level providers and often share the workload of NICU care with resident physicians. They are able to treat, plan, prescribe, diagnose and perform procedures within their scope of practice, defined by governing law and the hospital where they work.
Spectrum of care
Rather than focusing on a particular organ system, neonatologists focus on the care of newborns who require ICU hospitalization. They may also act as general pediatricians, providing well newborn evaluation and care in the hospital where they are based. Some neonatologists, particularly those in academic settings, may follow infants for months or even years after hospital discharge to better assess the long term effects of health problems early in life. Some neonatologists perform clinical and basic science research to further our understanding of this special population of patients.