How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

By Sarah Collins

11/18/2021



The nursing profession focuses on helping people. It’s a vast field, offering different areas of specialization.

Some areas of specialty are based on patients’ age groups. These include specialties like geriatrics, which involves working with elderly patients, and pediatrics, which deals with children.

Remarkably, pediatric nursing is a highly specialized and rewarding area in the profession. Pediatric nurses work with children of all ages, from premature neonates to adolescents. They work in acute and non-acute health care settings.

This area of specialty allows nurses to promote the health and well-being of children and their families. They help children grow up to become mature and well-functioning adults.

So, what do you need to know to become a pediatric nurse? Read on to learn all you can.

The Job of a Pediatric Nurse

“You will always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Pediatric nurses work with children. Pediatric nursing covers a wide age range and includes opportunities to specialize further.

For example, a school nurse works with school-aged children and teenagers. An obstetrics nurse would focus on the care of newborns and their mothers. A nurse who works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) would work with premature infants.

Pediatric nurse practitioners, for example, are medical professionals with a job role that includes diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing medications, and taking care of critically ill children. They also set up treatment plans and provide general health care.

Let’s look at the different job settings for nursing specialties.

Child Development

Children have different needs based on their level of development. These needs include those of premature infants up through the changes of adolescence. Nurse practitioners adapt their approach to care based on a child’s age and development. Specific health problems are more of a concern at different times in a child’s life.

Child-specific age groups include the following breakdowns, as advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Infancy/Baby (0-12 months)
  • Toddler (1-3 years)
  • Preschool (3-5 years)
  • Grade school (5-12 years)
  • Adolescence (12-18 years)

 

While children can experience many of the same health problems as adults, growth and development influence how these problems develop and are experienced.

For example, mental delays or attention problems like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) will be diagnosed in childhood. Allergies will be discovered. Genetic disorders or deformities can be diagnosed and treated. Safety is also a primary concern as children learn and develop independence.

Nursing professionals who work with children need to learn how children behave and think based on their development and health condition. They develop trusting relationships with children to help them get the best care possible.

Pediatric nurses can work in outpatient settings such as doctor’s offices and clinics or a major medical center. Where you choose to work will influence your responsibilities and the types of interactions you’ll have. Location will also affect pay and flexibility of hours.

Primary Care

Nurses in this setting help with well-child visits and the care of children that can be handled in the outpatient setting. Day-to-day activities include assisting with scheduled immunizations, recording developmental milestones, and helping teach parents to care for children’s chronic conditions.

The primary care setting focuses on proactive health and early detection of health problems. For example, nurses in the primary care setting can help make physical examinations and procedures as smooth as possible for the child. This can include using distraction techniques and helping keep children calm in an environment that may be new and frightening.

Nurses in this setting also focus efforts on making sure children are safe. They can screen for signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect and help ensure that children develop secure relationships with their primary caregivers. They can identify children who are at risk and get them the help they need.

Hospital or Acute Health Care Setting

In this context, the role of the registered nurse (RN) centers on caring for children with acute illnesses. This role could involve monitoring vital signs and heart rhythms, performing diagnostic tests administering medications and other treatments prescribed by the provider.

Caring for pediatrics in the hospital setting may involve helping children who have experienced traumatic injuries, children with cancer, and children who have received a new diagnosis of a chronic condition.

A palliative pediatric nurse helps to improve the quality of life of children with life-threatening conditions. Such pediatric care employs special nursing skills to ease the patients’ pain. Usually, a pediatric nurse depends on nursing interventions.

Pediatric nurses provide care to children, but their work also centers on keeping parents and caregivers actively involved. This role can include giving parents regular updates and facilitating communication between the parents and other health care team members.

There are whole hospitals that center their care on the pediatric age group. According to U.S. News and World Report ranking, some top pediatric hospitals in the United States include

  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Texas Children’s Hospital
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Other Areas of Specialty

Pediatric nurses also have the opportunity to help specific groups of children.

Neonates

Certified pediatric nurses who specialize in this pediatric area care help children who are born prematurely. They care for children in a critical stage of early human development and help parents through difficult medical experiences.

Children With Disabilities

Children may have developmental delays, as well as physical and mental disabilities. Pediatric nurses may choose to specialize in helping children with disabilities achieve the highest level of functioning possible. This role can involve teaching children language skills and helping them with activities of daily living.

Terminally-Ill children

For children who have terminal illnesses, nurses can help make them as comfortable as possible. They can help their families explore options for treatment and services. Pediatric nurses in this setting provide comfort and help children and families through the grieving process.

Pediatric nurses may also choose to focus their work on specific health conditions. For example, they may choose to work with children who have congenital heart conditions or respiratory disorders. Or they might help children with endocrinology disorders like Type 1 Diabetes.

What the Pediatric Nurse Career Pays

The pay for pediatric nurses varies based on a nurse’s work facility, certifications, and experience level. For example, nurses who become a certified pediatric nurse have an official certificate that will influence their pay and scope of practice. State location will also play a role in determining a pediatric nurse’s salary.

In general, a pediatric registered nurse with a higher level of education, like a master’s degree, will earn more than nurses who only have an associate’s degree.

Pediatric nursing experience will also influence what kind of job you can get as a pediatric nurse. Many pediatric nursing positions will require a certain level of general nursing experience before applying to the specialty.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for registered nurses is $80,010. The average hourly wage for RNs is $38.47 an hour. This average does apply to clinical nurse specialists.

Average salaries do vary among states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The states with the highest levels of employed nurses have the following average salaries:

  • California: yearly salary – $120,560 and hourly wage – $57.96 an hour
  • Texas: yearly salary – $76,800 and hourly wage – $36.92
  • Florida: yearly salary – $69,510 and hourly wage – $33.42
  • New York: yearly salary – $89,760 and hourly wage – $43.16
  • Pennsylvania: yearly salary – $74,170 and hourly wage – $35.66

Pediatric Nurses

According to statistics from Zip Recruiter, the median annual salary for a pediatric nurse is $59,084 a year and $28 an hour.

Remember, these pay estimates include all types of pediatric nurses. This average includes school nurses who work in a more routine setting with summer breaks and pediatric intensive care unit nurses who work with acutely ill children.

These distinctions need to be considered. Nurses need to weigh pay options with other factors like the importance of balancing work and home life.

Pay does vary based on the acuity of the work setting and hours. For example, pediatric nurses in the doctor’s office setting might be paid less, but their hours are typically more consistent. A pediatric nurse who works with children in intensive care might be paid more, but their hours may be more unpredictable or occur during unconventional hours.

Pay for Pediatric Nurses by State

According to Zip Recruiter, the pay for pediatric nurses also varies by state. Here’s a breakdown of the highest and lowest pay by state for pediatric nurses. This data doesn’t note if the nurse is a certified pediatric nurse.

States With the Highest Pay:
  • Massachusetts, with a $63,123 annual income
  • Hawaii, with a $62,364 annual income
  • Connecticut, with a $61,867 annual income
States With the Lowest Pay:
  • Florida, with a $45,393 annual income
  • North Carolina, with a $45,954 annual income
  • Alabama, with a $47,035 annual income

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

As an advanced practice degree, pediatric nurse practitioners make a higher annual salary than registered nurses. This degree offers high levels of autonomy and the ability to specialize.

According to statistics from Zip Recruiter, the average annual salary for pediatric nurse practitioners is $105,395 a year and $51 an hour.

Similar to pediatric RNs, the pay for pediatric nurse practitioners will vary based on the acuity of the work setting and state location.

Education Training Requirements

In general, nurses who want to specialize in pediatrics have to start with becoming a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. Beyond this, there’s an opportunity to specialize through further education and clinical experience. Nurses can also pursue advanced degrees with a focus on pediatrics.

Certifications and credentials will influence levels of pay and the availability of pediatric jobs. After becoming an RN, a person can dedicate their efforts to gaining clinical practice experience and pursuing further certification options.

Now, let’s look at the common pathways to patient care:

Become a Registered Nurse

To become a registered nurse (RN), people have to earn at least an associate degree in nursing (ADN). The program typically takes about two years to complete.

After graduation, individuals are required to take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX). After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, they can practice as a licensed RN in clinics and community hospitals as healthcare professionals.

As an RN, it’s a good idea to gain broad experience before choosing a specialty. It can involve being part of a nurse residency program or working in outpatient clinics, children’s hospitals, free-standing children’s hospitals, or on a general hospital floor.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

More hospitals and states are encouraging nurses to get their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Typically, a BSN program will take about four years to complete. Nurses who get their BSN can practice as registered nurses but can also take on more leadership responsibilities.

One option available for BSN programs is the RN to BSN program. This program allows people to get credits towards their BSN while earning their ADN. Then, it takes about an additional year of classwork to get a BSN degree.

Those pursuing a BSN do have the option to choose a special area for the concentration of their BSN coursework. One option is pediatrics. Other options include areas like holistic nursing, nursing research, and public health nursing.

Clinical Experience

Once a nurse has gained adequate general nursing experience, they can apply to jobs that involve working with children. This could include working in a pediatric unit of a hospital, in the emergency room, surgical centers, a physician’s office, or at a primary care center.

While exploring job options, ask about training and preceptor programs. These help newer nurses gain experience safely.

During orientation and training, nurses can ask questions and learn about procedures and actions they aren’t familiar with. They can also learn about the special needs of children and how their care differs from the care of adults.

Nurses may choose to start work with pediatrics on a general pediatric floor and move to care for more acutely ill pediatric patients, such as those in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).

Pediatric Certifications

For nurses who choose to specialize in pediatric nursing, there are options for pediatric certifications.

As noted by the Society of Pediatric Nurses, the two main organizations that offer certifications for pediatric nurses are the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

To become a certified pediatric nurse (CPN), registered nurses must first obtain a certain number of hours of pediatric clinical experience. The CPN examination requires 1,800 clinical hours over a two-year time frame. Afterward, nurses can take the exam for the certification.

This certification, however, isn’t a requirement for working in pediatrics. However, nurses who have this certification may get greater opportunities for career advancement and pay increases.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

For those looking to pursue an advanced nursing degree, becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) is a great option. Pediatric nurse practitioners work with children but in more of a provider rather than a nursing role.

PNPs can diagnose and treat medical conditions experienced by children. They are also able to prescribe medication to younger patients and perform specialized training. PNPs carry out developmental screenings, develop treatment plans, and play essential roles in community clinics.

As noted previously, pediatric nursing professionals tend to earn more than registered nurses. Typically, this degree will take an additional two years of education after a BSN degree. PNPs can work in both the acute and primary care setting.

Top Online Programs and Colleges to Specialize in Pediatrics

Colleges and universities offer both in-person and online options for those who want to pursue an education in pediatric nursing. After becoming an RN, nurses have multiple options to continue their education for advanced degrees focusing on pediatrics.

The cost of schools will vary based on location. Employers may often help cover tuition costs as the nurses work to pursue an advanced nursing degree.

Consider what you want and where you are in your level of education. If you’re already a registered nurse, start by researching the best colleges to get your bachelor’s degree. Also, if you already have your bachelor’s degree, research schools based on programs for advanced practice degrees.

Consider your availability and whether you want in-person or online learning options. Then you can decide which type of program is best for you.

Top Ranking Schools for Pediatric Nursing Advanced Degrees

Researching options is critical when it comes to choosing where to pursue your degree in nursing care. So, that’s a path you have to take.

For those interested in pediatrics, the following schools offer excellent programs for advanced pediatric degrees. You can view the full rankings at U.S. News and World Report ranking.

Duke University

This school ranks top for a Nurse Practitioner

MSN degree, which is perfect for those interested in working in family practice. The program would include certification to work with children. Duke University ranks fourth for best Doctor of Nursing Program (DPN). The school is located in Durham, North Carolina.

Vanderbilt University

This school is ranked number two for family practice nurse practitioner degrees and six for a doctorate in nursing program. It’s located in Nashville, Tennessee.

Emory University

This school is ranked third for family practice nurse practitioner degrees. It’s a private school located in Atlanta, Georgia. They are ranked number 8 in the best doctorate of nursing programs.

University of California San Francisco

This is a public school ranked fourth for a family nurse practitioner degree. They are ranked number 28 for the best doctorate of nursing programs.

Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania

These two schools tie the fifth position for family nurse practitioner programs.  Nursing students will find it worthwhile learning about patient care in any of these school’s degree programs.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

This school is ranked seventh for family nurse practitioner degree and eleventh for doctorate of nursing degrees. It is a public school located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

George Washington University

This is a private school that comes eight for family the nurse practitioner degree. The school is located in Washington, D.C. Nursing candidates get extensive theoretical training and clinical rotations

Pediatric Nursing: Takeaways

With immense opportunities to specialize, nursing can be a rewarding career. After researching the profession and areas you want to specialize in, the next step is to apply to and attend an accredited nursing school.

Pediatric nursing provides the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children and their families in a meaningful way. It involves the care of children in both the acute and non-acute care setting.

Pediatrics might be the next step in your nursing career. It’s a fulfilling role that provides preventive care and general health care to children.

Ready to get started? Choosing the right school and program make up the first step in pediatric nursing.

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