Quick Facts :
Pediatric Nurses

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, May 2017

info-icon ADN or BSN
info-icon $73,550 Annual Wage
info-icon 15% Job Growth

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What Is a Pediatric Nurse?

A general practice pediatric department serves children who present with a variety of medical and surgical conditions, both acute and chronic. Young patients who need constant monitoring and invasive procedures receive medical care in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Nurses and doctors in these units have the advanced knowledge necessary to care for children who are critically ill or severely injured. Patients with acute illnesses who require less-frequent monitoring and assessment are treated in an intermediate care area, a transitional section between the PICU and general care unit.

A pediatric nurse who works in a rehabilitation unit provides care and coaches the child and his or her family with a long-term goal: helping the child achieve independence and thus receive a discharge. If the disability is permanent, the pediatric nurse prepares the patient and family by supplying coping strategies and resources for reentering the community and the school setting. 

Educating both parents and patients is an essential goal in pediatric nursing. Professionals in this role provide basic health information such as nutritional guidelines and preventative medicine as it relates to childhood diseases. A pediatric nurse serves as an important source of parent support for concerns about behavior management and developmental disabilities. He or she may refer parents to other resources if an issue arises during the visit that requires outside intervention. The pediatric nurse works closely with doctors and other medical staff to ensure high-quality patient care.

What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?

Pediatric nursing’s ultimate goal is to ensure that all children develop and grow to their full potential. A pediatric nurse cares for sick and injured children, administers immunizations, monitors development, and counsels parents. To obtain a position in pediatric nursing, these healthcare professionals complete advanced training and practice hours while earning their registered nurse (RN) degree. They work in close collaboration with doctors and other medical staff to ensure the best outcome for patients and their families.

Specific duties that a pediatric nurse performs include recording the child’s height and weight, obtaining blood and urine samples, and ordering diagnostic testing. These responsibilities are similar to those of other nurses; however, because of their patients’ young age and developmental level, pediatric nurses must take a different approach. For example, advanced training prepares the pediatric nurse to be able to interpret test results, such as CT scans or MRIs, as well as to create a treatment plan based on those results.

Evidence suggests that, given the choice, most parents prefer a pediatric nurse for their child, not a general practice nurse. Working with children requires a comprehensive understanding of their unique physical, emotional, and cognitive developmental levels. These young patients don’t typically understand why they are visiting the pediatrician’s office and may act out from fear and confusion. A strong background in child development prepares nurses to be able to adjust their approach so the child feels safe. Additionally, the pediatric nurse understands that children’s bodies react differently to medications, illnesses, and injuries, and he or she has the ability to adjust proportions accordingly.

Patient and parent education plays a large part in pediatric nursing. These nurses teach parents how to care for their children from infancy through late adolescence, providing instruction in everything from routine child care to the proper treatment of chronic health conditions such as diabetes or developmental issues such as autism. A pediatric nurse helps design care plans to accommodate children with special needs in the home, community, and school environment.

Teaching preventative care methods is another important aspect of pediatric nursing. Pediatric nurses may prepare and make presentations at schools, child care centers, and community organizations about issues such as accident prevention and the importance of proper nutrition. Additionally, a pediatric nurse may perform screenings at these events as well as immunizations.

Typical Working Conditions

A pediatric nurse may be employed in a variety of settings, including:

  • Private practice physicians’ offices
  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Surgical centers
  • Schools
  • Community organizations

Some children’s nurses prepare themselves to work in a specific area, such as the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) or at a community outreach organization that provides basic health care to low-income families. Regardless of the setting, these nurses must possess the skills necessary to offer both education and comfort to patient’s families. This is particularly true of children who have cancer and other life-threatening health conditions.

Steps to Become a Pediatric Nurse

A pediatric nurse is a registered nurse or an advanced practice registered nurse who has received specialized training with pediatric patients. Pediatric nurses dedicate their career to working with children of all ages, from infancy through the teen years. Registered nurses who work with pediatric patients can perform examinations and take samples for laboratory testing and vital signs. Advanced practice registered nurses often diagnose and treat pediatric patients.

An effective CPN can communicate with parents, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. But, most importantly, pediatric nurses can communicate well with children, listening to their health issues and calming their fears of the medical setting, the doctor, or their illness or injury. Children’s diseases and afflictions differ from those of adults; they react differently to medications, and their bodies are proportioned differently. As a result, children’s health care requirements differ as well, and pediatric nurses receive specialized training that enables them to treat those needs.

The best CPNs have patience, compassion, and empathy, which children can understand and appreciate. Pediatric nurses often have a special understanding of how to make children feel comfortable in a medical office. CPNs also possess the ability to teach caregivers how to prevent health issues in children and create a safe environment in the home. You can pursue a variety of educational paths to become a pediatric nurse.

1. Obtain an Associate of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Becoming a pediatric nurse requires extensive education, especially as related to juvenile health care. Nursing students learn about both the common and rare illnesses that affect children. Students also learn about nutrition, sleep, and other factors that influence children’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development.

Child development courses teach students the “normal” behaviors and milestones in infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarten through elementary, adolescents, and teenagers. To provide a child with the best possible nursing care, nurses must understand how children develop both physically and cognitively. Although every child is unique and achieves milestones according to his or her own timetable, nurses should have a thorough understanding of the typical growth markers. Knowing this information helps nurses identify possible developmental delays and track the child’s growth.

Recommended Coursework

Coursework for a nursing degree differs depending on the school and program in which the student is enrolled. Typical courses may include health assessment, principles of nursing, community health nursing, coordination of care, nursing research, anatomy, leadership in nursing, clinical nursing skills, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and nursing care for children and families.

Students who want to become a pediatric nurse can jump-start their careers by taking basic courses in child health, child development, and child psychology. These courses help nurses understand pediatric patients, anticipate their needs, and become comfortable when communicating with children. In addition, these courses make it easier for the student to begin a career in pediatric nursing.

2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

After graduating from a nursing program, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Passing the exam and acquiring a license are the final hurdles that nurses must clear before they begin to practice. This exam measures a nurse’s knowledge of the principles of nursing and his or her familiarity with basic nursing concepts.

The test, which is computerized, is scored by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, a non-profit organization. Also known as the NCSBN, this organization works with nursing boards to regulate and ensure standards are met in the nursing profession throughout the country. Every state and U.S. territory requires prospective nurses to successfully pass the NCLEX-RN.

The exam is divided into 10 categories (four primary categories and six subcategories):

  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Management of Care
  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Integrity
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Safe and Effective Care Environment

The test is computerized. Since each subsequent question is selected based on the student’s answer to the previous question, the test is tailored to the individual test-taker. This means that the exam determines the nurse’s genuine knowledge of nursing practice and theories. Typical questions focus on topics such as disease management, injury treatment, infection control, safety, care management, and illness prevention and treatment. Nurses must possess excellent critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and retain the knowledge gained during their training. Visit the NCBSN website for information about test dates and registration.

Once the student has passed the exam, the nurse may begin as a registered nurse, preferably in a pediatric environment. Nurses who would like to receive certification from the pediatric nurse certification board must meet these eligibility requirements:

  • Minimum of 1,800 hours of pediatric clinical experience completed in the past 24 months prior to sitting for the certification exam, OR
  • Five years or more as a registered nurse in pediatrics and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing and at least 1,000 hours within the past 24 months.

Once these requirements have been met, the nurse may obtain certification through the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board.

3. Get Certified as a Pediatric Nurse Through the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board

To become a certified pediatric nurse, the RN must take and pass an exam administered by the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board. This exam certifies demonstrated mastery over the important topics that pediatric nurses must know to perform their duties, such as illness management, health promotion, and health restoration.

This important credential shows not only that a certified pediatric nurse possesses the skills necessary to serve in pediatric care, but it also helps to ensure the quality of care in different facilities across the country. To become certified, a prospective nurse must take the following steps:

  1. Confirm eligibility (as described).
  2. Review the preparation materials available online through the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board.
  3. Pay the fee ($295 the first time) and apply.
  4. Schedule and take the exam.

After they apply, applicants receive a 90-day window in which to schedule the exam. After earning the standard certification in pediatric nursing, CPNs can earn advanced certifications in pediatric specialties, including emergency nursing, primary care, behavioral and mental health care, and acute care.

The Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC) certification is awarded to graduates with a master’s or a doctor of nursing practice degree. This qualification demonstrates that the graduate is prepared to practice as a certified pediatric nurse practitioner. Like the CPN certification, the CPNP-PC certification establishes a specific set of standards and tests nurses on them. Pediatric nurse practitioners must pass the test to show they are capable of performing the functions of a CPNP-PC, including diagnostic abilities and knowledge of treatment for children of all ages. Certified pediatric nurse practitioners must have a variety of core competencies, including a thorough understanding of the evaluation, screening, assessment, and diagnostic of children of all ages. CPNP-PCs also prescribe medications and design treatment programs for children in their care.

Nurse practitioners who provide acute care for pediatric patients obtain a special credential known as the CPNP-AC, which certifies that a nurse practitioner is capable of administering treatment to pediatric patients experiencing acute illnesses. These specialized nurse practitioners help patients facing life-threatening and/or chronic conditions.

To become certified, CPNP-ACs must demonstrate competency in many areas, including:

  • Data and research
  • Professional leadership
  • Child health and safety
  • Providing quality care

CPNP-ACs must master these competencies to be successful in their profession.

4. Enter the Workforce / Search for Jobs

Once a pediatric nurse has completed all the steps required to become certified as a pediatric nurse, he or she must begin to look for a job. Pediatric nurses work in a variety of settings, depending on job availability and the nurse’s interests. Pediatric nurses can find work at doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, surgical centers, neonatal units, and pediatric oncology wards in both urban and rural areas.

Before beginning the job search, always research availability in your area. Learn about the facilities in your region that hire pediatric nurses, the kinds of positions that are available, the size of the facilities, standard salary ranges, and staff job satisfaction at each facility. Obtain some of this information from facility websites and job boards and maintain contact with nurses and other medical staff at your training and internship locations. Through networking, prospective nurses may hear of open positions and acquire recommendations. Doing this legwork prior to the job search makes it easier for the pediatric nurse to hit the ground running when it’s time to look for a job.

To successfully find a position, a nurse should have a resume, cover letter, university transcripts, and a list of references, all of which should be prepared in advance of receiving licensure. Role-play job interviews with a colleague or friend. To secure a position with a reputable facility, a pediatric nurse should be able to supply demonstrated evidence of his or her rapport with children, previous experience with juvenile patients, and methods for soothing and working with concerned parents.

Finding a pediatric nurse position at a good facility can take time. Nurses who succeed in school and prepare for interviews are likely to find a rewarding position at a facility where they can help children heal.

Pediatric Nurse Salary & Job Outlook

Nurse Journal, a website dedicated to the worldwide nursing profession, reports that salaries range widely for pediatric nurses. In sampling some of the major job posting websites, the organization notes an average salary of $52,000 to $88,500 for pediatric nursing positions. In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a median salary of $98,190 for all nurse practitioners and $67,490 for all RNs.

Neither website lists a job growth prediction specific to pediatric nursing, but both anticipate a 19 percent increase in demand for all nurses. Accuracy is predicted through 2022 at the earliest. The overall nursing shortage is one reason for the high demand, and another is the intensive and complex care available to young patients today, particularly premature babies, who only a decade ago may not have survived birth. These patients often require ongoing care once they leave the NICU to ensure they meet developmental milestones. 

According to the website Clinical Advisor, the demand for pediatric nurse practitioners in an acute setting is expected to be especially high over the next several years. Nurses in this specialty area are retiring at record rates, and too few new nurses are choosing this specialization. This leaves the door open for nursing students to pursue a rewarding and in-demand career.