Pediatric Nurse with a child in the hospital

Working with children takes a unique personality and skill set — life as a pediatric nurse is filled with lots of emotional highs, lows, and laughs as you do everything to keep your littlest patients smiling during tough times. 

Some pediatric nurses work exclusively with children with cancer or terminal illnesses; others work with children with rare disorders or congenital disabilities. Others work in hospitals, treating children from infancy through high school with different diseases and injuries.

Pediatric nurses are a beacon of light, hope, and confidence for patients and parents. They do so much more than provide healthcare; they’re educators, guiding parents on the following steps to ensure their children are as healthy as possible. 

If you want to become a pediatric nurse, this guide will cover everything you need to know. This career path is an exciting, heartwarming field perfect for aspiring nurses who love kids. 

What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?

Pediatric nurses work with children and teenagers in a variety of healthcare settings. In addition, they provide direct patient care in hospitals and doctor's offices. 

Their patients can range from only a few weeks old to 18+. In addition, some states treat young adults in pediatrics until age 21. 

Being a pediatric registered nurse (PRN) means always being ready for something new. You have to speak the unique language of children, read between the lines, and know how to understand symptoms they likely can't articulate. 

Some of the daily responsibilities of a pediatric nurse include:

  • Greeting patients and taking vitals

  • Gathering patient history from parents or legal guardians 

  • Creating, updating, and managing patients' files in an electric medical records (EMR) system

  • Perform physical examinations on babies, children, and teenagers

  • Collect lab samples, such as blood and urine samples, and submit diagnostic tests

  • Offer advice and education to parents or caregivers

  • Emotionally support and comfort patients during procedures 

  • Prepare exam rooms or hospital beds for patients 

  • Maintain a clean and sterile environment 

  • Collaborate with doctors and other children's healthcare specialists to coordinate treatments and care plans

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What are the steps to becoming a qualified Pediatric Nurse?

You can become a certified pediatric nurse in five steps following this outline. Each stage will cover the most significant milestones in your future career, starting with earning your degree.

Attend Nursing School and Earn a BSN

Nursing school is your first stop on the road to pediatric nursing. After that, you'll need a bachelor's degree in most settings to qualify for care in pediatric wards or a pediatric clinic. 

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing gives you the greatest level of training and prepares you to step into additional roles in the future. However, while you can earn your RN with an associate's degree in nursing, it can limit your career growth. 

If you want to become a nurse manager, educator, or nurse practitioner, a bachelor’s degree is your best option. Many employers also require at least a BSN to work in their organization. 

Although you may be able to get hired with an ASN, holding a bachelor's makes you a more valuable job candidate and increases your job opportunities.

Moreover, the BSN program covers topics omitted from the ASN program. These include:

  • Nursing leadership

  • Case management

  • Information management

  • Research 

While both ASN and BSN degrees can make you a great nurse, the latter gives you a stronger foothold for future development. You'll also be able to more readily step into leadership roles, which can lead to a higher salary.

Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX-RN is the licensing exam for nurses in the United States and Canada. It’s administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and tests aspiring nurses' competency in several core areas.

The RN exam focuses on management and a deeper understanding of the range of nursing as a practice. 

In addition to demonstrating your knowledge as a potential RN, you'll also need to show your understanding of healthcare. This knowledge includes patients' rights and responsibilities, maintaining the emotional and mental welfare of your patients, and the effects of healthcare and nursing on patient outcomes.

The NCLEX-RN uses an adaptive scoring system to administer questions. While you answer questions, the system will assess your aptitude, and then give you personalized questions to test specific skills and knowledge. 

The computer will continue to adapt its questions, covering all focus areas, until it reaches a 95% pass-fail certainty. 

If this makes you nervous, don't worry. You have plenty of time to prepare, and there are a lot of NCLEX study guides, online prep, and even a practice exam through the NCSNBN.

Obtain a state-registered nursing license

After passing the NCLEX, the final step to becoming an RN is officially registering with your state. First, look up your state's board of nursing, then apply with all the requirements. Once your information has been screened and approved, you'll be registered in the system and sent a license. 

With your nursing license in hand, you're officially an RN. Now, it's time to start looking for jobs. If you want to work in pediatrics, it's best to apply in children's hospitals or pediatric clinics.

Gain bedside experience in the Pediatric Care Unit

Working in the Pediatric Care Unit of a hospital is the most common way nurses gain bedside experience. However, you can become a pediatric nurse working in clinical settings, too. Children's health clinics, like a pediatrician's office, offer ample experience and learning opportunities.

You’ll need to work in pediatrics for at least 1800 hours before earning certification as a pediatric nurse. Until then, your official title is still RN.

Earn your pediatric nursing certification 

The CPN (Certified Pediatric Nurse) certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) is the most widely recognized qualification in this specialty. 

Before applying, you must have at least 1800 hours of work in a pediatric setting within the last two years. At least 1000 of these hours must have occurred in the previous year.

There is an alternate CPN pathway for nurses who can’t demonstrate 1800 hours in the previous 24 months. For example, if you experienced a life event or were unemployed, the alternate pathway allows you to use pediatric experience over five non-consecutive years of nursing.

The CPN exam contains 175 multiple-choice questions and lasts 3 hours. In addition, you can take a self-paced, online CPN prep course to prepare for everything you'll encounter on the exam.

Can you become a Pediatric Nurse online?

You can earn many online nursing degrees online, but they require in-person clinicals. The required hours of clinicals vary by school and by state. On average, you can expect at least 120 hours per semester. 

Most states require RNs to perform between 400 to 800 hours of clinical work before they are given a license. 

You can start your degree online, complete your classroom education remotely, and then perform clinicals in an approved healthcare setting. You'll have to collaborate with your school to be placed in a hospital near you.

In June 2020, the U.S. Department of Education adopted new regulations for nursing programs. These affect nursing curriculums both online and in-person. You can read more about the changes on the NCSBN site.

What is the difference between a Pediatric Nurse and an ER Nurse?

A pediatric nurse cares for children; an ER nurse specializes in emergency care. While some pediatric emergency room nurses are pediatric, these professionals hold different titles. For example, pediatric emergency nurses are CPENs, while a standard pediatric nurse is a CPN.

If you want to specialize in caring for children in an emergency room or urgent care setting, then the CPEN certification is the best qualification. 

A similar role to the CPEN is the PICU nurse. Pediatric intensive care unit nurses care for patients in the most critical condition. PICU nurses hold a CCRN-K, or Critical Care Registered Nurse, certification.

For all other pediatric nurses, CPN is the gold standard certification. CPNs work in pediatric care units, children’s hospitals, family health clinics, or pediatrician offices.

What positions can you progress to from being a Pediatric Nurse?

The CPNP, or Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, is the most common position after CPN. You can either be a CPNP-PC for primary care or a CPNP-AC for acute, critical, and chronic care. 

To become a CPNP, you’ll need to hold a master’s degree (MSN) or doctoral degree (DNP) in nursing. You will also need at least 500 hours of clinical work in primary care for the PC path and acute care for the AC path.

You can also train to become a Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist PMHS. These mental health professionals specialize in early intervention for psychological, behavioral, and developmental conditions in children and adolescents. 

To become a PMHS, you must already be one of the following:

  • Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

  • Child/Adolescent Psychiatric & Mental Health CNS (PMHCNS-BC) 

  • Psychiatric-Mental Health NP

You will also need 2,000 hours of clinical experience in developmental, behavioral, and mental health (DBMH) and 30 hours of DBMH education or one graduate-level DBMH curse worth at least two college credits. 

Visit the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board to learn more about all their certifications.

Additionally, if you want to work with children but prefer a more relaxed setting, you could consider becoming a school nurse. School nurses are RNs with at least 3 to 4 years of clinical experience. 

They must be skilled at working with children and managing stressful situations; a school nurse has to provide on-demand treatment and sometimes emergency care without any doctors on-site. 

School nurses also have to follow school policies and look after the psychosocial well-being of their patients. This responsibility means recognizing and addressing bullying, abuse, and mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

Do your Pediatric Nurse exam qualifications expire?

Yes. You will need to renew your registered nurse license with your state and renew any additional certifications with the appropriate licensing board. For example, if you hold a CPN certificate, you must apply for recertification every year. 

You can review this guide by the PNBC on how to renew your CPN credentials. 

As for your RN, this license is treated separately from your CPN, CPNP, or other pediatric nursing certifications. 

Check with your state's board of nursing to see how often you need to renew your nursing license. Most states require nurses to renew their RN State Licence every three years.

How much do Pediatric Nurses make?

Our research shows the average pediatric nurse in the US makes $69,473.96 annually. Average annual earnings vary across the country from $53,580 (Iowa) to $101,559 (Connecticut). 

Indeed reports a slightly higher annual median salary of $88,151, or $36.58. These figures are based on 6,1000 reported salaries as of July 11, 2022.

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How long does it take to become a Pediatric Nurse?

It takes 4 to 6 years to become a certified pediatric nurse. Although the BSN program takes 3 ½  to 4 years to complete, your CPN certification requires an additional two years of work experience.

If you decide to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, you’ll need to earn a master’s or doctoral degree. These can take an additional two years or a combined 4 to 5 years. 

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