What Is a Pediatric Nurse?

When considering career paths in the health care industry, the options are endless. Each track requires different levels of education, experience, and certification, and deciding on a specific profession can be overwhelming. Students interested in working with children may consider pediatric nursing as a career option, but what is a pediatric nurse?

A pediatric nurse focuses on providing care for children who experience illness and injury. It’s an incredibly rewarding career, and each day is never quite the same. The job requires a bit of playfulness and a lot of patience, and the potential rewards are limitless.

Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Since the stages of child development are significantly different from those of adults, pediatrics is a specialized field that requires advanced knowledge of child growth and how medical treatments may affect it. It’s critical that pediatric nurses gain the appropriate skills and experience needed to deliver the most effective care.

After attaining a bachelor’s degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination, also known as the NCLEX, many pediatric nurses begin their careers as registered nurses (RNs). As RNs, they can work in a variety of areas within their specialty. For example, working in neonatal, postnatal, or critical care can help nurses determine if they would like to specialize in pediatric nursing.

This RN clinical experience is required by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) if nurses plan to go on to take the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam. In addition to work experience, nurses may also consider coursework for a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate degree program (DNP) if they would like to practice autonomously as nurse practitioners (NPs).

A pediatric nurse will have to take the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP) certification exam before practicing as a pediatric NP. These additional qualifications enable pediatric NPs to perform similar functions as doctors and to act as primary care providers by completing physical exams, diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing medications.

The Competencies of a Pediatric Nurse

The CPN and CPNP exams test knowledge and understanding of the primary core competencies that nurses need to provide appropriate care to children and families. For pre-license pediatric nurses, there are five core competencies:

  • A robust patient assessment includes more than examining the physical symptoms. It must also include which growth and developmental stage the child is in and the psychosocial, cultural, spiritual, and environmental factors that are present in a child’s life.
  • Plan of care. A plan of care is specific to the child who needs treatment. It must be centered on the family and take into account specific cultural factors gathered from the assessment. All of these factors are used to set measurable and attainable goals for treatment that the family can achieve together.
  • Critical thinking. Each day will be different, as will each child and each family. Nurses will have to use an intellectual approach to analyze information related to the patient and use evidence-based treatments to plan trajectories for treatment.
  • Because the age of a patient can range from infancy to late teens, information related to the plan of care needs to be understood by the patient and the family. Nurses can use pictures, technology, or even acting to ensure that everyone understands treatment decisions. If a nurse is working with a family that doesn’t speak the same language, phone translation services can be used to convey the information. Families that have different spiritual backgrounds may have various means of practicing care. Pediatric nurses must exercise understanding and empathy when developing plans of care.
  • Ethical practice. A strong foundation of ethical standards supports the successful practice of medicine. As health care professionals, pediatric nurses must follow and practice these standards, including maintaining the privacy of the patient and family and delivering treatment that has been signed off on by the patient and parent or guardian.

Demand for Pediatric Nurses

The need for pediatric nurses in American hospitals is acute. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for RNs in the United States is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, considerably faster than the 6 percent average rate of job growth in the country.

Pediatric nurses who specialize in an area of care such as critical care or neurology will command a higher salary than non-specialized nurses, as they have completed additional training and certifications, which are recognized by national certifying agencies. Oncology — the treatment and care of children who are undergoing active cancer treatments — is another area in which qualified nurses choose to practice. Often these specialized areas are in children’s hospitals or clinics, which can be appealing if nurses don’t want to work in a general hospital.

Why Become a Pediatric Nurse?

Understanding what a pediatric nurse is goes beyond job qualifications and responsibilities. A nurse working in pediatrics has a passion and desire to help the next generation thrive. Providing care for sick children can be challenging at times, but witnessing the recovery of a child and the returning smiles of a family that was in distress is indescribable.

Learn More:

With the need for health care providers increasing, specializing as a pediatric nurse is appealing for nurses and NPs who are trying to advance their careers. Regis College offers online Post-Master’s Nursing Certificate programs that prepare students to sit for a certification exam with a new, flexible learning format.


Recommended Reading:

Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Exploring the Field of Pediatric Nursing

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?



Houston Chronicle

News Medical Life Sciences


Pediatric Nursing Certification Board

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Registered Nursing

Society of Pediatric Nurses

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties