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What is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

What is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

Why have you chosen a nursing career? Is it because you want to play a pivotal role in health care? If you love the field of nursing but are yearning for more responsibility, more education, and a higher salary, you may want to consider becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner on the front lines of health care.

What is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

A Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) is part of a group of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who have additional responsibilities above those of a registered nurse (RN). The APRN group includes not only nurse practitioners, but also nurse midwives (CNMs), nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and clinical nurse specialists (CNSs).

What does a pediatric nurse practitioner do?

Pediatric nurse practitioners provide a full range of health care to people from birth up to age 21. Quite often in their roles, they are providing both acute and specialty health care. A pediatric nurse practitioner is typically involved in all aspects of health care, from assessment to diagnosis to treatment.

Many pediatric nurse practitioners often serve as primary care providers in public health care roles, serving to provide preventative care to the people who need it the most. As part of their duties, pediatric nurse practitioners:

  • examine patients
  • administer childhood immunizations
  • provide developmental screenings
  • provide school physicals
  • treat common illnesses
  • perform well-child exams
  • diagnose and treat illnesses
  • advise the public on pediatric health issues
  • help patients manage chronic disease
  • prescribe medication

It is also important to distinguish a pediatric nurse practitioner from the other APRN roles of certified nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Pediatric nurse practitioners today have so many options because health care is being offered in so many non-traditional places outside of the traditional doctor’s office or hospital: retail clinics, onsite corporate health clinics, and in-home healthcare companies. All of these mean more healthcare practitioners are needed, and these roles have definitely created opportunities for pediatric nurse practitioners in many interesting locations.

Why is a pediatric nurse practitioner so important?

There’s no doubt that pediatric nurse practitioners provide high-quality medical care that is usually equal to that of a doctor. In fact, there have been over 100 published reports to date that show nurse practitioner care is on par to the care that a physician can provide. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that a pediatric nurse practitioner can provide 80 to 90 percent of the same primary care that a physician offers.

However, pediatric nurse practitioners are certainly not trying to replace physicians. Instead, PNPs are trying to supplement that care. PNPs typically practice in places where there is a lack of access to physicians, and the healthcare industry overall has a physician shortage. Becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner can mean filling a gap in healthcare for children.

So far, 20 states have expanded nurse practitioner (NP) authority and autonomy. In these states, NPs have what is called “full practice authority,” meaning they can work independently and are not required to be supervised by a physician. In the remaining 30 states, a medical doctor must sign off on certain patient care decisions made by an NP. However, nurse practitioners definitely have more authority than RNs in those states.

These 20 states have come to the realization that nurse practitioners can fill an extremely important role, particularly when it comes to rural health care. Although 20 percent of Americans do live in rural areas, fewer than 10 percent of doctors have rural practices, thus the rural health care crisis. Comparatively, 18 percent of NPs do indeed practice in rural areas. Many are founders or operators of successful nurse-led community health centers. The same is true for underserved areas. Nurse practitioners can also fill the gap in urban health care by successfully expanding the healthcare services that are currently offered in urban communities.

For all these reasons, pediatric nurse practitioners are more and more becoming an extremely integral part of medical teams. Increasingly, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are understanding both the importance and the benefit of utilizing PNP services.

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners have it all! They have an advanced education that allows them to take on roles typically filled by doctors, and they have extensive nursing experience in the field that provides a unique insight on how to provide better patient care.

Any type of APRN, including a PNP, typically has a master’s degree as well as the initial education required to become an RN. Most PNPs also take frequent continuing education courses to remain up-to-date with technological and methodological developments in medicine.

PNP Education Requirements and Training

Before you become a pediatric nurse practitioner, you must first become an RN, achieve and keep your RN license while you pursue your PNP education, and keep your RN license in good standing. You must also earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

After your undergraduate education is complete, enroll in an intensive two-year Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. By far the most straightforward way to achieve this is to be an RN who already has a BSN, but if you don’t, look into special RN-to-MSN bridge programs for nurses who need a bachelor’s degree. There are accelerated programs, bridge programs and programs that take into account a bachelor’s degree in another field.

You need to choose a nurse practitioner program that has national accreditation. These MSN programs are rigorous and involve in-depth coursework in a variety of topics including pharmacology and anatomy and physiology, among others. These MSN programs also require clinical rotation hours as well.

Once your MSN coursework is completed, you must obtain licensure for advanced practice nursing. While the exam and certification criteria do vary depending on the state you are in, the certification must be from one of the following national credentialing organizations:

  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses Certification Corporation (AACN)
  • National Certification Corporation of the Obstetric Gynecological and Neonatal Nursing Specialties (NCC)

Once you have your credentials, you can begin your exciting pediatric nurse practitioner career. The certification allows you to work in a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.

Re-licensing is mandatory and requirements for that vary from state to state. The state board of nursing will dictate what is needed for re-certification. Here is one example from the North Carolina Board of Nursing.

Many pediatric nurse practitioners pursue administrative and managerial positions in these healthcare facilities and some go on to complete further education in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, the highest level of nursing education available.

The PNP Career Outlook

The nurse practitioner specialty was created in 1965 and has been growing steadily in the last 50+ years. The career outlook for specialty pediatric nurse practitioners is very good, particularly considering the gap areas described above, where more rural nurses are needed and more nurses are needed in non-traditional healthcare settings. Pediatric nurse practitioners are needed in every healthcare setting from home to hospital, so PNPs can usually choose day hours, night shifts or whatever schedule suits them.

The career outlook as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) is very good. They expect PNP job openings to grow 36% by 2026—five times the growth rate of all professions—so the outlook is indeed excellent.

Salary and Employment

Salaries can range from $78,000 to $150,000. The outlook for employment as a pediatric nurse practitioner is good, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. PNPs can diagnose and treat all forms of illness, including episodic, acute, and chronic illness. They can order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, lab work and x-rays and prescribe medication. PNPs can work independently or as part of a healthcare team focusing on disease prevention or health promotion. As such, pediatric nurse practitioners are very versatile, and the outlook for the profession is extremely good for both the near term and the long term.

Although the number of U.S. physicians is shrinking, this is certainly not the trend for PNPs. Their numbers are growing. In fact, AANP estimates are that over 250,000 nurse practitioners in all specialty areas currently practice in the U.S., an exponentially higher number than just a decade ago.

A large majority of healthcare organizations have increased their advanced nursing workforce within the last few years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Pediatric nurse practitioners also have increasing opportunities for locum tenens work. In fact, locum tenens PNP numbers have tripled since 2013.

Top 5 Specialties for Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

Pediatric nurse practitioners have many career options regarding areas of specialization. Look carefully at your choice of MSN program as they all may not offer every specialization. You may have to look at several programs to pull together specialization coursework, but many MSN programs are available either through online or hybrid learning, tmaking your desired specialization possible.

The following are areas of specialization for which you can obtain a nurse practitioner certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Provides healthcare assessments, education and direct care to individuals and families. This usually involves care collaboration with primary care physicians and other health care professionals.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Perform nursing duties ranging from generalized to critical care for newborns and infants in nurseries and neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). These NPs also often serve as interfaces between other healthcare providers and the parents and often serve in leadership and advocacy roles.

If pediatrics is not your area, you can also go into these specialty nurse practitioner areas:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: offers short-term patient treatment in facilities like emergency rooms, outpatient clinics or mental health clinics. Typical tasks including illness assessment and treatment options.
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner: Provision of a broad range of care in an ER setting.
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Provision of care and education to older adults. These NPs often assess, diagnose and manage many common illnesses and health problems. A large part of this role centers on education and disease prevention, and these NPs can work in a wide variety of settings, including doctors’ offices, community clinics and ambulatory care centers.
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: These nurses specialize in the mental health needs of individuals, families or specific populations of people. They provide both therapy and intervention treatments, prescribe medication and do case management.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Resources

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about pediatric nurse practitioners.

What is a pediatric nurse practitioner? A pediatric nurse practitioner focuses on managing health conditions and preventing disease in people under age 21. As licensed autonomous clinicians, PNPs can specialize not only in the pediatric population but also in further specializations like oncology, cardiology, gynecology or dermatology.

How do I become a pediatric nurse practitioner? You must graduate from high school and have a BSN or equivalent 4-year degree. Then you must become a registered nurse by taking the NCLEX-RN exam, and have one to two years of work experience after obtaining your RN license. All PNPs must have a graduate degree (MSN) in nursing, which can take 1.5 to 4 years depending on prior education and experience.

What core competencies must I have to be a PNP? The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has established the following nine core competencies that they feel must apply to all nurse practitioners:

  • Scientific foundations
  • Leadership
  • Quality
  • Practice inquiry
  • Technology literacy
  • Policy
  • Health delivery system
  • Ethics
  • Independent practice

What is an accelerated PNP program? Various people interested in becoming a PNP have different points of academic entry, so nurse practitioner schools are often able to accommodate them by offering flexible and online programs. For example, if you are an RN who has not earned a BSN degree, many MSN programs offer this ability.

  • A bridge program helps students bridge the gap between the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and graduate studies. This program typically allows the student to earn the BSN and then immediately start the MSN coursework.
  • A direct entry program works well for students with a bachelor’s degree in another area of study (not a BSN). Applicants are admitted as MSN students but the first part of the coursework focuses on undergraduate pre-requisites.
  • An accelerated program is very similar to a direct entry program but they typically require the applicant to first have an RN license.

If I am not a nurse, can I still go to PNP school? Yes, the direct-entry program described above allows you to enter the MSN program even if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. This is a great track for professionals interested in making a career change into nursing. Most direct-entry programs allow you to become an RN and a credentialed NP in two years (or longer depending on your academic entry point.)

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

You can learn more about nurse practitioners by following these great resources:

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Scholarship

We’ve provided a scholarship for anyone aspiring to be a nurse or any other healthcare worker. Check it out here!

List of Nurse Pediatric Practitioner Programs

Are you interested yet? If so, take a look at our list of the best Pediatric Nurse Practitioner programs.

Now what?

If you are looking for an advanced nursing role that challenges you to be a continual learner and to serve in areas where healthcare expertise is desperately needed, consider becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner today. You will be serving in a rewarding career on the front lines of medicine.

Feel free to contact us if you would like more information!

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