Pediatric nurse complete career guide

HomeNursingPediatric nurse

Becoming a pediatric nurse

Pediatric nurses are responsible for the care of children from infancy into their adolescence. Job duties are similar to those of most nurses including patient assessment, specimen collection for diagnostic testing, assisting in the development of treatment plans, administering medication and providing education and support to patients and their caretakers. However, due to the patient age group, the amount and type of care needed it is much more specialized. Child development and conditions are treated and observed differently than in adults. Because communication can often be a barrier, a pediatric nurse must be patient, calm and have the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues.

Education programs are comprised of a nursing, health and science based curriculum in addition to general studies. Pediatric nurses commonly begin working in hospitals or medical centers where 24 hour coverage is needed. Generally 8 to 12 hour shifts, holiday and weekend rotations, with on call requirements. As experience is gained, some nurses seek positions in surgical centers, clinics, doctor’s offices and schools. Depending on the type of facility and previous work experience, it is possible to find a position with a more standard Monday through Friday, 8 hour work day.

Ideally pediatric nurses have a natural connection with children and the ability to stay composed in stressful situations. It is essential to keep patients calm, earn their trust, be supportive and informative.

If you feel passionate about healthcare, have a clear understanding of children and their needs, and enjoy working with them, this could be the career to pursue. Treating patients through their most susceptible moments is gratifying for those who desire to help others, as such this field is staffed by intelligent, driven professionals who are committed to the work they do.  

Education requirements to become a pediatric nurse

At a minimum, pediatric nurses must have an associate degree in nursing (ADN), however most pursue the route of a bachelor’s in science in nursing (BSN). Pediatric nurses must be licensed as a registered nurses (RN) which requires completion and passing of the NCLEX-RN exam by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.  We recommend checking your program is accredited before enrolling as this will ensure the knowledge you gain meets the needs of the position.  The cost of the following degrees reflects the variation in course options – in-state, out-of-state, program format, and type of college.

Associates degree in nursing (ADN)                                                   

This degree is generally completed within 2 years of full-time study and is ideal for those with an interest in healthcare and are unable to dedicate the time necessary for a BSN. Coursework will include liberal arts requirements as well as many entry level nursing courses. Programs focus on teaching the skills and standards necessary for nursing including:

  • terminology
  • basic lab practice
  • anatomy, bedside care
  • microbiology and immunology
  • medical-surgical nursing
  • pediatric nursing
  • psychiatric nursing
  • maternal-newborn nursing
  • community health
  • health assessments
  • professional issues

This program will generally cost students anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000 and is available on campus or online at community colleges and some 4-year colleges. Note, online students are required to attend labs and clinical rotations in person, and which involves work experience hours in a number of clinical settings or facilities.

When choosing a school to attend, be sure to look into  program accreditation and the NCLEX pass rates. Passing the NCLEX to become an RN with an ADN  can provide the opportunity to expand your knowledge and future work options by earning specialty certifications in different areas of expertise.

Bachelor’s in science in nursing (BSN)

A BSN can provide you with the necessary tools and education most employers seek, and open the door to progress  into administrative or supervisory roles. Students without college experience can anticipate 4 years of full-time study to complete the program with a tuition cost of around $40,000 to $100,000. This degree is offered by many 4-year colleges and is also available partially online, with a requirement of in-person attendance of labs and clinical rotations. Students with previous college or healthcare experience may be considered for accelerated programs.

A BSN involves a much more comprehensive look into healthcare, decision making, patient management, ethics, legal issues as well as general studies. Coursework will include:

  • anatomy
  • pharmacology
  • leadership and management
  • research and statistics
  • pathophysiology
  • psychology

Students are required to do clinical hours or rotations which vary by program. During clinical hours, students spend an allocated number of hours in the field shadowing RNs as they work. This allows students to apply their knowledge in the workplace, helps increase confidence and experience levels and gives networking opportunity to students for future job openings. Most clinical hours take place between multiple facilities giving a broad range of experience to students.

Registered nurse (RN) 

A registered nurse is a licensed nurse with an ADN or BSN and has passed the NCLEX-RN exam. This test thoroughly assesses the skills and expertise necessary to become a nurse. NCLEX-RN questions are based on different categories including:

  • management of care
  • safety and infection control
  • health promotion and maintenance
  • psychosocial management
  • basic care and comfort
  • pharmacological therapy
  • nutrition
  • risk reduction
  • physiological adaptation

Exam results can be expected about 6 weeks after testing, if passed a license to practice as an RN will be issued.

Masters in science in nursing (MSN)

There are opportunities to further your education in this career by pursuing a MSN,  although this degree is not required to become a pediatric nurse. There are several pathways to obtain this degree depending on the level of education previously acquired.

With BSN, coursework would involve an additional 2 years of study. Depending on the school, tuition could cost between $35,000 and $60,000. Coursework helps develop specific skills at a higher level. This may include:

  • midwifery
  • disability studies
  • mental health assessment
  • nursing education
  • anesthesiology

Why pursue a career in pediatric nursing

In all settings, pediatric nurses care for children to provide them with the comfort and encouragement necessary under difficult circumstances. Duties include assessing and planning patient intervention, providing care prior to and following procedures, evaluating vitals, managing emergencies, monitoring and administering medication, obtaining patient samples, treating wounds, supervising inexperienced staff, record taking, and being the patients support system.  

Strong communication and interpersonal skills are a necessity. Candidates must have the ability to manage the patient’s needs as well as their caregivers.

Those interested in this career should be in good health and enjoy teamwork. The position can be both physically and emotionally demanding, therefore it is important to be naturally resilient and have the endurance to keep up with the fast pace.

Those requiring a flexible work schedule may not be a good fit for the position as many pediatric nurses begin their careers working multiple shifts and long hours. Some positions in the field involve travel and a part-time commitment.

Related career paths

Certified pediatric nurse (CPN)

Becoming a CPN is accomplished by taking a board certification examination. This exam goes beyond the scope of the NCLEX-RN and requires field experience. To be eligible, you must have a minimum of 1800 hours of pediatric clinical experience as an RN in the past year. An alternate pathway requires a minimum of 3000 hours as a pediatric RN in the past 5 years, with a minimum of 1000 hours in the past year. Hours attained in a pediatric nursing residency program  can apply. Test results are released 2-3 weeks after testing. Passing the exam to become board certified as a CPN is highly recognized when searching for an advanced career or seeking promotion. CPNs work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, surgical centers and doctors’ offices.

Average annual salary: $71,761.   

Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP)

Pediatric nurse practitioners take on additional responsibilities such as prescribing medication and performing health screenings. To become a PNP requires a MSN and passing the state certification examination. PNP’s work in a variety of settings including pediatric offices, hospitals and clinics. The compensation for a PNP is much higher than that of a traditional RN.

Average annual salary:  $91,070.  

National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)

The NCSBN gives an overview on their website of the necessities for the NCLEX-RN exam. How to prepare for testing, what to expect and test plans can all be located here. You are also able to search for exam locations and register for the exam using their website.

Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN)

The SPN gives an in depth overview on becoming a pediatric nurse. The website provides what is needed to enhance knowledge by offering learning tools, webinars, practice resources, certification information and tools to those looking to further their education. There is also opportunity to join discussion forums, attend conferences and seek opportunities of employment.

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

The PNCB helps students decide which program is best for them. It also helps prepare students for examination by offering information about the profession, test resources, exam facts, and the ability to schedule the exam if interested in becoming a CPN.