Pediatric Nurse Job Description: Roles and Responsibilities

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) specialize in delivering health care to individuals younger than 21 years old. In many instances, these nursing professionals work while supervised by a pediatric physician. If they are a certified PNP, physician oversight is not mandatory. PNPs provide affordable, quality care for many patients and can work in any relevant health care setting, including their own practice. While PNPs typically do not earn the highest pay among the nursing professions, they earn salaries well over the national average.

Pediatric nurse practitioners first earn accreditation and experience as RNs. They then pursue training and experience in child health care service. Pediatric medicine advocates foresee a significant talent shortage in this field over the coming years. However, by improving several nursing metrics, potential pediatric nurse practitioners can head off the anticipated talent shortage that is currently causing concern among many pediatric health care watchdogs.

Pediatric Nursing as a Profession

PNPs work with patients 21-years-old and younger, including newborns. They typically deliver service under physician management. However, some PNPs operate their own private practices. While most PNPs practice in a physician’s office, the pediatric nurse job description can vary based on where an individual is employed.

Surgical theaters

Nurse practitioners who work in an operating room often serve as the first assistant to the surgeon. Sample responsibilities may include implant placement, graft harvesting, and incisional closure of the surgical site.

Hospitals and Emergency Rooms

NPs who are employed in hospitals and emergency rooms are tasked with various aspects of patient care. Examples include patient assessments; ordering diagnostic tests; prescribing medications; and admitting, treating, and discharging patients.

Neonatal Units

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNPs) provide care for high-risk and premature patients whose ages range from birth to two months. In this setting, NNPs may be tasked with patient assessments, interventions, and development of care plans.

Pediatric Intensive Care Units (PICU)

Nurse practitioners in PICUs have many responsibilities, such as providing care, stabilizing patients’ health, and minimizing the health complications of infants, children, teens, and adults. The primary role of PICU NPs is to restore patients to their maximal health potential.

Pediatric Oncology Units

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are employed in pediatric oncology units provide care to cancer patients up to 18 years of age, although some patients may be up to 21 years old. Daily responsibilities may include patient evaluations, updating charts, monitoring treatment plans, and evaluating treatment effectiveness.

Other Work Environments

Some pediatric nursing practitioners work in academic facilities, in private caregiving practice groups, or with organizations that provide services to children and youth. The problem solving, guidance, and teaching skills of PNPs also transfer well to many other environments, such as specialty caregiving facilities, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and legal and information technology consulting enterprises.

PNP Responsibilities

Pediatric nurse practitioners usually interact with family members more than any other caregiving discipline. These medical professionals diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and perform annual checkups, in addition to requisitioning patient testing, and consulting with clients and their family members. PNPs also take patient vital signs, as well as blood and urine samples when needed. Additionally, advanced practice pediatric nursing practitioners interpret test results and develop treatment plans.

Treating patients at the pediatric level requires providers to be particularly observant, as children may not always be able to effectively communicate with a health care professional. PNPs may evaluate childhood growth patterns, and screen for and manage mental illness in children. They can also provide patient and family education about specific conditions related to children’s development.

Demand for PNPs

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that overall employment of nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 45% between 2019 and 2029. This growth is much faster than what is projected for all other occupations.

The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) reports that as of May 2019, there were 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the U.S., however less than 8% of NPs are educated and certified as PNPs. With less than 50,000 NPs certified as PNPs, the NAPNAP notes there are insufficient numbers of qualified professionals to address and care for the complex health care needs of the nation’s children.

The NAPNAP further highlights data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which notes the number of children living in the U.S. is projected to increase from 74 million to 76.3 million between 2016 and 2030. This increase is expected to further exacerbate the need for pediatric health care professionals

Salary Ranges for PNPs

As of May 2019, the starting salary for NPs such as PNPs was $82,460, up to an average mid-career salary of $115,800, according to the BLS. However, NPs in the top 10% reported earnings of more than $184,180 per year. Salary ranges can vary greatly based on a variety of factors, such as an individual’s years of experience and where the job is located.

The BLS reports that as of May 2019, these are the highest paying states for NPs such as PNPs.

  • California
  • Washington
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • Minnesota

Reports show that 36% percent of all PNPs work in a private practice setting, but there are several other environments in which they can work. For example, 32% work in academic health centers as opposed to 17% who work in community hospitals. Community clinics employ 8% of PNPs, 4% are in managed care organizations, 2% work in school-based health clinics, and 1% work in retail clinics or urgent care facilities.

The Path to a PNP Career

New health care reform provides insurance access to all U.S. citizens, which contributes to the demand for PNPs. Most pediatric nurse practitioners spend approximately ten years as registered nurses before entering their specialty. During this time, they receive exposure to many caregiving career paths before choosing to specialize in pediatrics.

Pediatric nurse practitioners begin their careers as RNs. Some earn associate degrees or diplomas, but most earn bachelor’s degrees. Nursing candidates must pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before they practice health care delivery.

To gain experience, nursing professionals who are interested in pediatric work most commonly seek employment with a pediatrician. PNPs typically serve as RNs for approximately ten years before practicing independently. Pediatric nursing hopefuls earn Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees in pediatrics, followed by certification via the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification

The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) advocates for specialized skill in child health care and supports a formalized standard for proving these skills. The organization believes certified pediatric nurse practitioners deliver the best possible patient outcomes and improve the caregiving experience for patients and their families. The association supports this opinion with several related studies.

The NAPNAP highlights the importance that certifying boards remain independent and unbiased. They recognize the extensive training that PNPs are required to undergo to develop service delivery proficiency. To maintain service quality, the organization also supports ongoing testing and continuing nursing education requirements.

Learn More About Opportunities in Pediatric Nursing

In nursing, three letters on your nametag (PNP) can make a world of difference. The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College can help you establish your reputation as an expert in health care — and can help you prove it every day. Specializing as a pediatric nurse practitioner by first earning your master’s degree can open opportunities for you in leadership and advanced practice roles.


Recommended Readings

Nursing Continuing Education: Importance, Options, and Resources for Getting Started

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Types of Nursing Degrees and Career Paths



American Academy of Pediatrics

Melnic, “Nurse Practitioners in the Operating Room: The Top 3 Key Responsibilities”

Melnic, “Role and Scope of Practice for the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)”

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, “Critical Shortage of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Emerging Over Next Decade”

Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, “The Role of the Advanced Practice Nurse in the Pediatric ICU”

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board

Pediatrics, “Strategic Modeling of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Workforce”

Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, “The Hospital-Based Nurse Practitioner: Context, Scope of Practice and Competencies”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners