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What is a Pediatric Nurse?

What is a Pediatric Nurse?

If you have dreamed about becoming a nurse who cares for sick children, you might consider becoming a pediatric nurse or pediatric nurse practitioner. Pediatric nurses work in all types of healthcare facilities and have extremely rewarding careers.

What is a Pediatric Nurse?

Pediatric nurses are a specialization for registered nurses who care for children and adolescents by providing both preventative and acute care. While you can work as a registered pediatric nurse (RN) having completed an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) certification exam known as the NCLEX-RN exam, most pediatric nurses these days have a BSN degree.

With further training, you can become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) and perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses and injuries, and provide patient education. PNPs frequently work in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) as part of a team of pediatricians and other health care providers.

What does a pediatric nurse do?

Registered nurses manage patient care and promote health, and pediatric nurses do that specifically for children and adolescents. Pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners work in many types of healthcare facilities ranging from doctors’ offices to hospitals and critical care facilities. Pediatric nurses have the following job functions:

  • Provide well-child exams
  • Perform developmental screenings
  • Diagnose and treat common childhood illnesses
  • Guide parents on common child health concerns
  • Give immunizations and school physicals

Nurses who work in a hospital or critical care facility care for children who are acutely, chronically or critically ill. These nurses interpret lab and test results, order medications, provide therapies and treatments and perform in-depth physical assessments. Many pediatric nurses choose to focus on a particular area or specialty such as oncology or cardiology.

RNs fulfill a unique role compared to non-registered nurses like licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN). In fact, RNs supervise LPNs and LVNs, as well as certified nurse assistants (CNA) who are not registered nurses but who complete a high school diploma and CNA certification.

Why are pediatric nurses so important?

Pediatric nurses provide children with holistic care that includes help with not only physical but also psychological, cultural, spiritual, economic, and lifestyle factors. Nurses are the primary person to interface with the child and parents, and can successfully follow a child through development, document any problems and establish an effective care plan.

RNs are the most employed group out of any nursing group, and as such, they fill a crucial role in American hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. RNs are even more important given the growing physician shortage across the United States and particularly in underserved, rural areas. However, RNs currently outnumber doctors by three-to-one, and the healthcare system definitely depends on registered nurses to provide much-needed patient care, particularly for children. With the sharp increase in childhood chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, pediatric nurses are even more needed and are truly the backbone of the American healthcare system. Without them, that system would cease to function. Fortunately, there are more than three million practicing RNs right now in America.

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

To become a pediatric nurse, you must first become a registered nurse. RNs have two minimum requirements: (1) earn an ADN degree and (2) pass the NCLEX-RN exam. More and more, healthcare employers are now trending toward hiring pediatric nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Depending on where you want to work and what you want to specialize in, as an RN, you might consider pursuing this path.

Pediatric Nurse Education Requirements and Training

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine’s comprehensive report on nursing suggested that hospitals and other facilities begin to hire RN nurses who have BSN degrees. Colleges and universities around the nation have responded to the IOM’s message and now offer several degree pathways for students who desire to earn the BSN degree. People have different academic entry points to the RN profession. Some want to only earn an ADN degree. Others earned an ADN to more quickly enter the workforce and now desire to pursue a BSN degree. Others may already have earned a bachelors degree in another field but now desire to become an RN by earning a BSN. Fortunately, programs exist to account for all of these situations.

Many RNs who have already earned the ADN and have been licensed to practice enter RN-to-BSN bridge programs that help an RN earn a BSN in one or two years. These programs typically offer traditional classroom courses, hybrid courses and online courses with flexible hours to help you earn your degree as quickly as possible.

If you have a B.S. in another field, an accelerated program might be just the ticket. These fast-paced programs take into consideration other coursework you’ve already completed. Many degree candidates earn their BSN degrees in as little as 12 to 18 months.

Regardless of whether you pursue the ADN or BSN pathway, all nurses must take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This standardized exam is administered in every state and is an assessment of an RNs skill set and readiness to perform the general scope of nursing duties.

In addition to the NCLEX, many states also have additional licensing requirements that RNs must meet to practice in that state. These criteria do vary from state to state.

Perhaps you are in an entirely different field but now have the desire to have a nursing career. Students who are not yet RNs but who want to pursue a BSN can qualify for direct-entry or accelerated programs that many schools offer. To qualify for these programs, individuals typically need to have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. Most programs can be completed in two years, making this an attractive option for professionals wanting to make a career change. These programs are challenging, but they do take into consideration coursework you’ve completed as part of your other bachelor’s degree. At the end of the program, you will be a credentialed RN and hold a BSN degree.

After they begin providing nursing care for children, many pediatric nurses go on to become certified as Certified Pediatric Nurses (CPN) by taking the certification exam.

Some nurses choose to become a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), which requires additional requirements beyond becoming an RN or CPN. First, a PNP must earn a master’s degree in nursing, called a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. The coursework includes extensive specialized pediatric nursing training. Nursing schools offer MSN programs that can be completed in two years. After graduation, you will take your state’s advanced practice nurse (APN) certification exam. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) provides certification for pediatric nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners.

The Pediatric Nurse Career Outlook

The American health system is currently powered by three million registered nurses. However, one-third of these nurses are at or will soon be entering retirement age, so hiring options are abundant, particularly for entry-level and specialty RNs. In fact, in just five short years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there will be 3.2 million RNs, comprising the largest sector of the nursing workforce. Growth rates in the profession are projected at 16 percent, which is must faster than most other employment sectors. With nursing job rates growing this fast, becoming an RN is a great career option.

Nurses will continue to be in demand given the large number of RNs who are retiring and given the overall physician shortage in our country. The healthcare industry could not function well with a nursing shortage, so hospitals and other employers are focused on hiring nurses now and for the foreseeable future.

There is even more demand for specialty nurses like pediatric nurses, and that translates into higher salaries as well as job security. With the sharp rise in obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, nurses are needed for diagnosis, treatment and patient education. Because these chronic illnesses are appearing more and more in children, pediatric nurses are a particular need.

Many employers seek to hire pediatric nurses, such as major children’s hospitals around the nation. Employers value the highly specialized skills these nurses have, so experience and advanced credentials in this specialty can give you a real career edge.

Salary and Employment

As of May 2018, the BLS shows that $71,000 per year is the average RN salary. This translates to an hourly rate of $34. Experienced and specialty RNs can expect to be at the top of the salary band, earning around $100,000 annually, depending on experience level, specialty, and location. Note that while government nursing jobs tend to pay the highest salaries, physician offices tend to pay RNs the lowest salaries, around $60,000 per year.

Certified nurses earn more than those who are not certified, and depending on the state you are in, certification may be required to practice nursing. Nurse Practitioners can earn even more — a median annual income of $98,190. Nurses who develop expertise in one area do tend to earn significantly more than generalist RNs.

Just remember that the BLS data are national averages, and salaries can, and do, vary significantly depending on your experience level, your education, the state you work in and the type of facility you are employed at. Hospitals still employ the majority of RNs by far, but these days you have many other facility options like ambulatory surgical centers and outpatient clinics, as well as long-term and memory care facilities.

Many RNs find satisfaction working in non-traditional nursing roles as school nurses, home health nurses, parish nurses or even travel nurses or locum tenens nurses. Travel nurses can work anywhere in the country for short-term 12-week contracts. Others find rewarding careers as public health nurses or legal nurse consultants.

Further Specialization

Many RNs are happy being generalists, but those who do become pediatric nurses can further specialize to focus on a specific pediatric patient population, medical condition, research area or workplace setting. Here are just a few examples:

  • Ambulatory Care Nurse
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Infection Control Nurse
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
  • Pediatric Oncology Nurse

Certain employers may require RNs to become certified in a pediatric specialty area. Various organizations serve as nationally-recognized certifying bodies, such as the formal examination offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine for a cardiac nursing specialty.

Some RNs pursue graduate training for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) degree. The APRN offers continued education in a specialized area of nursing in these four areas:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – provide the full range of anesthesia and pain management services
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – use best practices and evidence-based care to drive changes in a healthcare organization
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – licensed, autonomous clinicians focused on managing people’s health conditions and preventing disease

The demand for pediatric nurses is expected to keep rising over the next decade at least, so if you are looking for an in-demand career that gives you challenges, flexibility and versatility, you should really consider becoming a pediatric RN. These careers are extremely rewarding and impactful. Your pediatric RN specialization can serve as a great foundation for further specialization or earning an advanced degree. In general, you will be in higher demand and earn more with more training, experience, education and certifications.

Pediatric nurses are the heart and foundation of caring for children’s health. With the long hours and time away from home, nursing may not always be the easiest job, but it is nevertheless an extremely satisfying and rewarding career. The poet Maya Angelou is famous for saying this about nurses: “They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Become part of the heart of healthcare today. Become a registered pediatric nurse!

What are you waiting for? The education you need is at your doorstep! Feel free to contact us for more information.

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