Children have a complex range of health needs at each stage of their development, especially in the early years of their lives. Both pediatricians and pediatric nurses provide parents with expert advice and guidance regarding pediatric medical care. In essence, they help children grow into healthy adults.
Nurses who have a desire to pursue specialized roles in the care of young patients can prepare for a broader array of responsibilities and leadership opportunities by becoming certified pediatric nurse practitioners.
What Is Pediatrics?
Pediatrics originates from the Greek words pais, which means “child,” and iatros, which means “doctor.” Doctors and nurses who work in this specialized branch of medicine are dedicated to providing care for children from the time they are born to adolescence.
The practice of pediatrics became widely established in the U.S. by the mid-19th century, according to the journal Pediatrics. Prior to this time, most pediatric care largely focused on treating and preventing the spread of infectious diseases in children, but the field has since expanded to include treating genetic conditions, functional disabilities, and developmental disorders. Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) are professionals who play a pivotal role in providing care for the physical, mental, and emotional components of a child’s health.
Becoming a Pediatric Nurse
Pediatric nurses may work in a variety of health care settings, such as hospitals, schools, and community clinics, treating children who are experiencing illnesses ranging from chronic heart conditions to the common cold. They work with pediatricians to develop care plans and monitor for any changes in patients’ conditions. Pediatric nurses may also administer medications or treatments that are prescribed by physicians.
To become a pediatric nurse requires completing a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). After obtaining their license, graduates may begin working as registered nurses (RNs) in the pediatric field. Because undergraduate nursing programs generally do not offer formal specializations in pediatrics, it is important — according to the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) — for aspiring pediatric nurses to gain hands-on clinical experience in facilities that provide care for children.
Directly working with children and their families allows pediatric-focused RNs to enhance their knowledge of child development and practice their communication skills. In the course of their work, pediatric nurses engage with children of all ages and developmental stages. This requires the use of a variety of communication styles to effectively evaluate how patients are responding to treatments. For example, nurses may use drawings or ask young patients to repeat treatment steps to make sure they understand what is happening.
After at least two years of working as an RN in pediatrics, nurses may take the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam, which is administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). They may also apply for the Pediatric Nursing Certification (RN-BC) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). While obtaining the CPN or RN-BC is not a requirement to work as a pediatric nurse, earning these credentials may lead to additional opportunities for career advancement as well as salary growth.
The website PayScale reports the entry-level annual salary for a pediatric nurse is approximately $52,000, while certified pediatric nurses earn an average salary of $72,000. Research shows the median annual salary for a pediatric nurse is $70,000, although compensation varies depending on experience level, job location, and employer. When it comes to occupational growth, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15 percent increase in the employment of registered nurses (including pediatrics nurses) from 2016 to 2026, compared to a 7 percent average growth rate for all jobs.
Becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric nurses who are interested in a subspecialty of pediatrics, such as oncology, cardiology, or critical care, may choose to further their education to become a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP). A PNP is a registered nurse who has completed a two-year Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with a focus in pediatrics.
PNPs work in the same settings as pediatric nurses, providing care for children in hospitals, schools, clinics, and beyond. However, PNPs can perform duties that are above the usual scope of pediatric nurses. For example, they can diagnose illnesses, provide ongoing care and pain management for children with chronic conditions, and conduct developmental assessments. Some states even permit PNPs to open their own clinical practices and prescribe medications without the oversight of a physician.
To work as a PNP, nurses must pass a national certification exam. Additionally, they must apply to their state board of nursing for a secondary license that allows them to work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Many PNPs take the Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC) exam offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). Many pediatric associations across the country recognize this certification as a standard credential.
The BLS forecasts employer demand for PNPs and other nurse practitioners to grow 31 percent through 2026. The BLS also reports the median annual salary for nurse practitioners is $103,880, but PNPs who have additional years of experience and education may have opportunities to earn more. Pediatric nurse practitioners who are just beginning their careers may start closer to $85,000 per year, according to PayScale.
Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners face unique challenges on a daily basis, but they often find their work highly rewarding. Professionals who have strong communication skills, a compassionate ability to help families navigate difficult situations, and an eagerness to help children receive quality health care may be well suited for careers in this growing field.
The online Post-Master’s Certificate program at Regis College offers a cutting-edge curriculum that guides nurses toward advanced roles as nurse practitioners, providing the tools to work more independently and practice in specialized subfields. Visit the Regis College website to learn more about this program and the certifications that may lead to enhanced career opportunities.