Nursing MSN & DNP, Editorial

Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Female API nurse smiles looking at young female child in foreground

Caring for children is a noble endeavor. As is a career in nursing. And when you combine the two, you find the special people trained as pediatric nurses, who are privileged to help children develop from infancy through adolescence into healthy young adults. In this post, we explore what the job entails, the opportunities available, and the steps to becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner.

What Is a Pediatric Nurse? ((Indeed, “Pediatric Nurse Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications,” https://www.indeed.com/hire/job-description/pediatric-nurse?hl=en&co=US))

Pediatric nurses provide comprehensive healthcare to children, monitoring their rate of development.

Pediatric nurses are professionals who are skilled at addressing the medical needs of children in an empathetic way. They communicate with the child and family as they oversee their healthcare over time. Through advanced specialized training from a graduate nursing program, registered nurses (RNs) can tailor their nursing skill set to focus on the unique needs of children. 

Job Responsibilities

List of pediatric nursing duties graphic

Working closely with doctors, pediatric nurses manage multiple levels of primary care, such as recording patients’ medical histories, assisting with well-child exams, administering immunizations, and treating illness. Because children’s physical and cognitive capacities are continually developing, nurses must adjust their approach and health care plans to meet each child’s needs on that child’s level.

Pediatric nurses also play a critical role in educating parents about best practices for their child’s overall health. Information such as nutritional guidelines and warning signs of childhood diseases help parents make healthy decisions at home for their kids. The nurse may also serve as a source of support for parents, listening and advising on parental concerns about behavioral and developmental milestones. They can refer families to resources that benefit their children, such as food assistance programs for families with food insecurity.

Public health education can also be an important part of the role. Pediatric nurses often attend health fairs and visit nonprofit organizations and schools to perform physical exams, provide immunizations, and educate the community on prevention strategies.

Skills Needed

In order to be effective, a pediatric nurse must be able to speak and engage with kids on their own level, providing a balance of comfort and authority. For example, if a young patient begins screaming and crying for fear of receiving a shot, a pediatric nurse may need to use a soothing voice or a quick distraction to calm the situation. Medical anxiety for children is not uncommon, ((Juli Fraga, “How to Help Kids Overcome Their Fear of Doctors and Shots,” NPR, Dec. 29, 2018: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/29/677505443/how-to-help-kids-overcome-their-fear-of-doctors-and-shots))  so a background in child development can be valuable to a pediatric nurse.

Of course, pediatric nurses must also be well versed in the potential effects of medications, illness, and injuries on children. Knowing the risks that children could face due to their smaller physical size and evolving stages of development—and how to avoid these risks—can make the difference between life and death for a child.

Pediatric Nursing Specialties

Pediatric nursing has specialties that focus on the needs of specific types of patients. A few examples include:

  • Oncology: Childhood cancer rates have continued to climb in recent decades. ((American Cancer Society, “Key Statistics for Childhood Cancers,” last revised Jan. 12, 2021: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-in-children/key-statistics.html))  Pediatric oncology nurses help patients and families as they battle these life-threatening diseases.
  • Pediatric intensive care unit: PICU nurses provide pediatric care for critically ill or severely injured young patients who require intensive monitoring and invasive procedures.
  • Rehabilitation: Children with disabilities, whether temporary or permanent, receive physical rehabilitation with the goal to help the child achieve a sense of independence in their physical movements and life skills.

A career in nursing offers a wide variety of specialties to choose from, allowing for opportunities to grow your medical expertise focusing on childhood healthcare.

Where Do Pediatric Nurses Work?

Pie graph of pediatric nursing workforce distribution

Pediatric nurses work across a breadth of locations. According to the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, almost 60% of certified pediatric nurses work in children’s hospitals. ((Institute of Pediatric Nursing, “Pediatric Nursing Workforce Data,” 2017: https://www.ipedsnursing.org/pediatric-nursing-workforce-data))  Because the young patients at those hospitals need pediatric nurses, the numbers make sense. Most of the remainder of the pediatric nursing workforce is spread over outpatient care in doctors’ offices, community hospitals, major medical centers, schools, and home healthcare settings.

How Much Do Pediatric Nurses Make?

Salaries for pediatric nurses can range based on specialty and level of expertise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $75,330 ((U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020, 29-1141 Registered Nurses,” May 2020: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm)) for all RNs and $111,680 ((U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020, 29-1171 Nurse Practitioners,” May 2020: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm))  for all nurse practitioners as of May 2020. And Nurse.org’s list of the 15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021 ((Nurse.org, “15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021,” Oct. 26, 2020: https://nurse.org/articles/15-highest-paying-nursing-careers/))  reveals a wide spectrum of salaries, from $71,703 for a health policy nurse to a whopping $181,040 for a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

What Is the Career Outlook for Pediatric Nurses?

As the United States continues to face a nursing shortage, the demand for pediatric nurses remains positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of all registered nurses in the country is projected to increase by 7% between 2019 and 2029. That growth rate is almost twice as fast as the projected rate for all occupations, which is 4%. The BLS also acknowledges that RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree have better job prospects on average compared to those without a BSN. ((U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Registered Nurses / Job Outlook,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 9, 2021: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6))  

How Can I Become a Pediatric Nurse?

5 steps to career in pediatric nursing graphic

Dedicating yourself to becoming a pediatric nurse will require intensive education and clinical training to achieve your goals.

Step 1: Get Your Nursing Degree

Your journey to pediatric nursing begins with your nursing education. The first step is obtaining a college degree. You can typically earn a BSN degree in three to five years. Another path is to get an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), with the option to later transition into a BSN bridge program.

Step 2: Pass Your NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you’ve graduated with your BSN (or alternatively, ADN), like every registered nurse in America, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (also known as the NCLEX-RN) to become fully licensed. This extensive standardized test is designed to determine if you’ve learned enough to safely practice as a pediatric RN.

Step 3: Gain Experience as an RN

Once you are officially licensed by your state’s board of nursing, you can begin working as an RN. Holding the vision of becoming a pediatric nurse, you should strive to find a nursing job where you will treat young patients and their families. This could be a family practice doctor’s office, a hospital neonatal unit, or a community clinic serving children. Keep in mind that, when the time comes to earn your pediatric nursing certification (Step 4), you will be required to have completed roughly between two to five years of clinical pediatric nursing hours to qualify for the test. ((Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, “Steps to CPN Certification: Step 1: Confirm your eligibility,” https://www.pncb.org/cpn-certification-steps)) 

Step 4: Take the Certified Pediatric Nurse Exam

After completing 1,800 hours of clinical work in pediatrics in 24 months, or alternatively 3,000 hours across 5 years, nurses can register for the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board’s (PNCB) Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam. It’s a three-hour test with 175 multiple-choice questions. While becoming certified is not a requirement for work as a pediatric nurse, it does serve as proof of your expertise in the field. That expertise can be translated into better job prospects and higher salaries.

Step 5: Pursue a Graduate Nursing Degree

Taking the time to earn a graduate nursing degree can increase the advanced job opportunities and salary options you find in the future. It is not a requirement as a pediatric nurse, but it can be a real benefit. You can earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) over two to three years, depending on the specialization you choose. An MSN does not require any additional certification.

In addition to or instead of getting an MSN, you can also consider pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. An additional certification exam is available to complete this process. ((Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, “Steps to CPNP-PC Certification” https://www.pncb.org/cpnp-pc-certification-steps))  PNPs are empowered with additional responsibilities, including prescribing medications, giving immunizations, and managing developmental screenings. On average, it takes 3 to 5 years to complete a PNP degree.

Is Pediatric Nursing Right for Me?

You have the knowledge in your hands now to better decide if you want to put in your time and energy to become a pediatric nurse. While pursuing a pediatric nursing career takes time, the joy of helping children and families is a great reward.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions.* Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.

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