Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Education, Schools, and Career Overview

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Education, Schools, and Career Overview

A pediatric nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in the care of children and teens. Serving as a pediatric nurse or pediatric nurse practitioner requires patience, compassion, and discipline. Treating young patients can be emotionally taxing and even frustrating at times. However, pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners know that there is no accomplishment greater than that of alleviating a child's pain and providing him or her with guidance and encouragement.

Children who are ill or injured depend upon pediatric nurses to provide and coordinate their diagnosis, care and treatment. Pediatricians and other physicians depend upon the work of pediatric nurses to ensure efficient case management and patient care. The parents and other family members of a child patient often rely upon the pediatric nurse to serve as a liaison with the treating physician and to assist in comforting the sick child.

Pediatric Nurse Duties

Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners fulfill many responsibilities. They serve as patient advocates and family counselors. They also ensure that certain ethical rules are followed, including the maintenance of confidentiality for the child and his or her family members. Above all, pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners are professionals who accept the responsibility of performing their very important duties in the face of great pressure. Knowledgeable pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners can serve as tremendous educational resources concerning issues of child and adolescent health and development.

Pediatric Nursing Specializations

Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners may work in a variety of environments, including:

  • Doctor's offices
  • Hospitals, including the Emergency Room and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
  • Regional clinics
  • Primary or secondary school campuses

They may choose to work in routine settings, performing developmental evaluations and delivering immunizations, or in acute care settings, such as emergency rooms or operating rooms, where they may be called upon to interpret the results of diagnostic tests or provide direct assistance to doctors.

Some pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners specialize in psychiatry, which entails treating children who suffer from specific mental illnesses. Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners may specialize in other practice areas as well, including cardiology, dermatology, oncology, gastroenterology, and emergency medicine. In many cases, they may collaborate or cooperate with physicians, nurses, and other health professionals from other specialty areas in order to coordinate patient care and provide the children they treat with the best possible diagnoses and therapeutic interventions.

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

Those who wish to become pediatric nurses and want or need to get into the workforce as soon as possible can choose to train as licensed practical nurses (LPNs). The educational program that one must pursue to become a licensed practical nurse generally takes about a year to complete. However, licensed practical nurses generally get paid significantly less than their counterparts who obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing and become registered nurses. 

Undergraduates planning to major in nursing or pursue nursing at the graduate level should construct a course schedule that resembles that of pre-med students. In other words, they should take science courses including biology, chemistry, and physics and advanced mathematics courses including calculus.  Those planning to specialize in pediatric nursing should also consider taking courses in psychology and human or child development.

Pediatric nursing degree programs

Pediatric nurse practitioners obtain special education and training beyond what is required to become a pediatric nurse, may also prescribe medications and treatments, order diagnostic tests, and interpret the results of diagnostic and other laboratory tests.

Becoming a pediatric nurse through the RN route generally requires a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited four-year university. Pediatric nurses who train as registered nurses have much more flexibility in the performance of their jobs, and a greater variety of workplace settings to choose from, than do licensed practical nurses. As an alternative, those who wish to train as registered nurses can obtain a bachelor's degree in another major subject, usually in the sciences, psychology, or another healthcare-related field, and then earn an additional degree in nursing or a nursing certificate.

In addition to training as a nurse, pediatric nurse practitioners must also earn a master's degree. Unlike pediatric nurses, who work primarily under the supervision and direction of a physician, those who hold pediatric nurse practitioner jobs enjoy broader autonomy in diagnosing and treating illness and injury in their young patients.

Post-graduate training to become a registered nurse generally takes about two years to complete. More and more, the bachelor's degree in nursing is becoming the preferred credential for registered nurses. Pediatric RNs also have the option of obtaining additional training in an area of chosen specialty within the larger pediatrics field, such as psychiatry or oncology, and then becoming clinical nurse specialists.

Pediatric nursing certification

Becoming a pediatric nurse requires first becoming licensed as a registered nurse under the regulations promulgated by the nursing board in the state in which you plan to practice, and then pursuing certification. Pediatric nurse practitioners must also meet their state's requirements for licensure as an advanced practice nurses. After licensure, you will need to meet the requirements for certification that are set forth by your state. Generally, these requirements include successfully completing the certification process offered by a national credentialing agency. 

The most prominent national credentialing agency in the field of pediatric nursing is the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). The PNCB administers certification examinations that have been approved by a number of professional pediatric nursing bodies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, the Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs, and the Society of Pediatric Nurses.

The Certified Pediatric Nurse examination is designed for nurses with extensive experience treating pediatric patients and with knowledge of the field beyond that of a typical registered nurse. However, those who aspire to work in acute care settings, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units, may also take the Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse certification examination which was developed in collaboration with the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.

Pediatric nurse licensure

All U.S. states and territories as well as the District of Columbia require pediatric nurses to be licensed. Each region is served by its own state board of nursing, which sets the list of requirements that pediatric nurses must meet in order to qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN.

Further voluntary certification in pediatrics may also be obtained. Special pediatric certification can demonstrate dedication to an elevated standard of care and can be required by individual employers for certain positions.

Training for pediatric nursing

While some nursing students have the opportunity to take coursework in pediatric nursing, or specialize in this area during their academic career, most registered nurses who become pediatric nurses do so through on the job training. Nursing graduates who hope to work in the pediatrics field should obtain their license to practice as a registered nurse and then apply to work in a facility or office that serves the healthcare needs of infants, children, and adolescents. 

Some hospitals offer internship programs for new graduates of nursing schools that train them specifically in the field of pediatrics through a combination of clinical training and classroom instruction. Such internships generally last about three months and teach the candidate all the specialized knowledge and skills required to work effectively and efficiently as a pediatric nurse.

Career advancement for pediatric nurses

Pediatric nurse certification and pediatric NP certification provide many career benefits. Those who can demonstrate that they have been certified by a respected national credentialing organization tend to make more money than those who are not yet certified. They are more likely to be considered for open positions and get interviews for either the pediatric nurse or pediatric nurse practitioner jobs they are most interested in pursuing. Therefore, certified pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners enjoy enhanced career mobility in terms of the ability to move from job to job and to move up through the ranks into positions that demand more responsibility and provide more challenge and reward.

Pediatric nurses can move on to positions of increased responsibility as they gain experience and prove their skills through strong job performance. Some pediatric nurses choose to continue their nursing education to the graduate level and train for careers in advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) fields such as nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife.

Management is also an option for pediatric nurses looking to advance their careers. Some workplace environments may provide on-the-job paths to nursing management, while some prefer management candidates who have earned a graduate degree in nursing or health care administration.

Pediatric Nurse Skills and Qualities

A pediatric nurse needs to have the sensitivity and social skills required to forge relationships with patients while providing direct care and treatment for illness and injury. Above all, because they routinely work with children, pediatric nurses should enjoy working with and spending time with children of all ages. Pediatric nurses must also be excellent team players, as they must work with one another, as well as with supervising physicians, to ensure that their patients receive the best care possible. In addition, pediatric nurse need excellent communication skills so they are able to explain treatments and diagnostic procedures to their patients and to their patients' parents and guardians.

Because they interact so closely with children, pediatric nurses must develop a teacher-like ability to explain complex concepts in simple, understandable terms. Since pediatric nurses may treat children of different ages, they must keep in mind developmental and cognitive milestones and communicate with each patient in a way that is appropriate for his or her age and background. Pediatric nurses must also have good memories so as to maintain familiarity with the different equipment and procedures that are appropriate to use with children of different age levels and physical sizes.

Pediatric nurses must also have the ability to manage stress and work under pressure. Dealing with the competing demands of physicians, patients, and patients' families can be a challenge. A pediatric NP must also have the emotional fortitude to work with children who may be in pain or who are otherwise distressed. It is therefore important that pediatric nurses maintain a healthy perspective on their work.

Pediatric nurse practitioners, in particular, should have the ability to make decisions autonomously and work independently. They must be good critical thinkers and problem solvers. They should also be able to make swift and thoughtful judgments about patient diagnosis and care. Being flexible and adaptable can help a pediatric NP accommodate patients who present unique challenges and demand a unique course of treatment and method of case management. Pediatric nurse practitioners must be able to respond quickly to crises and changing circumstances and be able to think and respond on their toes.

Career Outlook and Salary for Pediatric Nurses

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care jobs in general are on the rise, due to factors like an aging population living longer, increased health issues needing attention, and advancement in medical technology. However, as with any position, the pay and job outlook for pediatric nurses in particular vary based on things like experience, education level, and location.

Here’s an idea of what pediatric nurses might expect to see in the coming years for salary and job growth numbers, based on related data from the BLS:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Registered Nurses2,982,280$77,460
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,


  • Registered Nurses, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
  • Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018,
  • National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018


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