How to Become a Pediatric Nurse – Career Guide

For pediatric patients and families, the majority of their medical professional contact may be with a pediatric nurse. Pediatric nurses work with doctors and other medical staff to coordinate and plan care for children of all ages in a variety of healthcare settings. In addition to possible administrative and medical duties, they may provide education on treatments and diagnoses to patients and their families.

Find out more about what a pediatric nurse does, along with common requirements to become one, typical salaries, certifications and more.

Steps to Become a Pediatric Nurse

There are some common steps to take to becoming a nurse with a pediatric focus. Education, experience and certification are key. Though everyone’s path is different, here  are some steps to becoming a pediatric nurse and satisfying pediatric nurse requirements. 

1. Get an associate or bachelor’s degree 

Pediatric nurses may begin with an associate or bachelor’s degree so they can learn about healthcare for children, nutrition, sleep and other factors that influence cognitive, emotional and physical development. 

2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination

Nursing graduates then must apply for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This exam focuses on knowledge of four areas of nursing, including:

  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Physiological integrity and delivering proper nursing care
  • Psychosocial integrity and coping with the stresses of being a nurse
  • Safe, effective care environments

3. Become a registered nurse

To practice as a pediatric nurse, you will have to become an RN by applying for state licensure. You might try to land your first RN job in a pediatric environment. This may provide a look at the life of a pediatric nurse and what you need to know about the pediatric environment.

4. Gain clinical experience

Gaining clinical experience is an important pediatric nurse requirement. As an RN, you’ll be able to practice your specialty and gain experience caring for children. According to the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), you’ll need the following clinical experience to become a certified pediatric nurse by the PNCB:

  • At least 1,800 hours of pediatric clinical experience in the past 24 months, or
  • Five years or more as a registered nurse in pediatrics and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing plus at least 1,000 hours within the past 24 months

5. Pass the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board exam

The PNCB’s Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (CPNP-PC) certification demonstrates mastery over topics such as health promotion, health restoration and illness management.

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Pathways to Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Some undergraduate nursing programs may have a semester or two focusing on the care of pediatric patients, including clinical experience. Nursing careers can range from unlicensed assistive personnel to advanced practice registered nurses who hold a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice

There are several online nursing programs you can take while pursuing a career as a pediatric nurse. Below are some paths to become a pediatric nurse.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

As undergraduate degrees, most associate degrees in nursing programs require two to three years of study. Students who graduate with an ADN may be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam, depending on state licensure requirements.

Foundational ADN classes may include:

  • Behavioral Health
  • Chemistry
  • Communications
  • English
  • Foundations in Nursing
  • Microbiology

Earning an ADN degree may be a good way to get core knowledge and clinical skills to begin your pediatric nursing career.

Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree may help you continue your education and build on the knowledge gained from an ADN degree. Although, you may apply straight to BSN programs instead of pursuing the ADN pathway. BSN nurses may be given more responsibilities in the workplace and may be able to pursue direct-care and managerial roles in specialty fields. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) advocates for BSN-educated RNs.

Some common courses for BSN students may include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Emergency Care
  • Family, Community and Population-Based Care
  • Health Assessment
  • Microbiology
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Theory
  • Statistics

RN to BSN

As an RN, gaining more knowledge and clinical skills may ultimately help improve your practice and help advance your career. RN-to-BSN programs can be pursued online, which gives you the flexibility to complete your studies while you work.

Nursing-specific courses in an RN-to-BSN program may cover topics such as:

  • Community health nursing
  • Concepts in nurse leadership
  • Cultural competence in nursing
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Human nutrition

An RN-to-BSN degree may also be a stepping-stone to a master’s in nursing degree, a requirement by many state licensure boards to become an advanced practice registered nurse.

Should I Become a Pediatric Nurse?

Pediatric nurses comfort and care for children. If you have a heart built for helping children and making them feel comfortable, you might consider becoming a pediatric nurse. 

The Society for Pediatric Nurses (SPN) outlines pediatric nurse core competencies with key concepts of accountability and family-centered care:

  • Safety and Quality Improvement
  • Advocacy
  • Communication
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Leadership and Professional Development
  • Evaluation and Outcomes
  • Technology and Informatics
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Becoming a pediatric nurse may be considered a career choice for those who meet or exceed these competencies while providing care and education for children and their families. 

Salary and Career Outlook

The median annual wage for registered nurses was $75,330 in May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That ranged from a high of $84,490 working for the government to $64,630 in educational services at the state, local and private level. A pediatric nurse’s salary may be comparable to a general RN’s salary, as an RN is a minimum requirement for certification. Nursing salaries also vary by location.

In addition to RN salary, the outlook for RNs is strong over the long term. The number of jobs for registered nurses is expected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029, the BLS reports. The growth in employment is likely to increase because of America’s aging population. 

Roles and Responsibilities 

Pediatric nurses serve as a child’s health advocate, letting them and their families know about preventive care, current health and treatment needed. They also may help develop individualized home healthcare plans.

According to the CPN role outlined by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), CPNs may have the following responsibilities: assess, analyze, plan and implement nursing care and interventions

  • Evaluate Patient Outcomes
  • Organize Initial and/or Ongoing Education for Other Pediatric Nurses
  • Research Patient Outcomes and Professional Issues
  • Provide Leadership and Management for Other Pediatric Nurses

Skills

When seeking your certification from the ANCC as a Pediatric Nurse – Board Certified (RN-BC), you will need to pass an exam that tests knowledge and skills (PDF, 527 KB), such as:

  • Physical and Psychosocial Assessments
  • Medication and Treatment Reconciliation
  • Coordination of Care
  • Evidence-Based Interventions
  • Medication Administration
  • Therapeutic Communication Techniques
  • Teaching Methods 

In addition, pediatric nurses should be knowledgeable about diagnostic testing, treatment interactions, family structure, culture of diverse groups, health promotion and more.

Pediatric Nurse Certifications

Nursing certification demonstrates you have advanced skill and knowledge. Below are four certifications pediatric nurses can pursue. Information on these certifications was last retrieved in June 2021.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

The CPN certification is offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCP). Information below on the CPN certification was last retrieved in September 2020. For the most up-to-date information, check with the PNCP.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • A current, valid RN license without restrictions in the United States, U.S. territories or Canada
  • A minimum of 1,800 hours of pediatric clinical experience within the past 24 months as an RN, or
  • A minimum of five years as an RN in pediatric nursing and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing within the last five years with a minimum of 1,000 hours within the past 24 months

Fees:

  • $300 for the exam (includes the $100 non-refundable registration fee)
  • $255 for members of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN)
  • $245 for re-examination
  • $130 for exam extension

Renewal:

Registered Nurse-Board Certified Pediatric (RN-BC)

The RN-BC certification is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Information below on the RN-BC certification was last retrieved in September 2020. For the most up-to-date information, check with the ANCC.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Current, active RN license in the U.S. or the professional, legally recognized equivalent in another country
  • Registered nurse for the equivalent of two years full-time 
  • Clinical practice of at least 2,000 hours in the specialty area of pediatric nursing within the last three years
  • 30 hours of continuing education in pediatric nursing within the last three years

Fees:

  • $295 for American Nurses Association members
  • $395 for non-members

Renewal:

  • RN-BC certification renewal is required every five years. Renewal costs $250 for American Nurses Association members or $350 for non-members.

Pediatric Nurse Resources

Here are some resources for pediatric nurses, from certification and professional groups to sites offering free resources.

Related Nursing Careers

Pediatric nurses may choose to move on to other types of nursing careers. Both in-person and online programs both can help you along your nursing career path. Here are some related nursing careers you may consider pursuing:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife: As a certified nurse midwife (CNM), you focus on women’s health, from adolescence to menopause. Their expertise is not only on women giving birth. Research online CNM programs if this career interests you. 
  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Family nurse practitioners deliver family-focused care either autonomously or in collaboration with other healthcare professionals. If you’d like to become an FNP, you may look into in-person and online FNP programs.
  • Labor and Delivery Nurse: LDNs assist pregnant women throughout the childbirth experience, from early labor through delivery and the immediate postpartum period.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse: NICU nurses work with newborns who have such ailments as cardiac malformations, dangerous infections, premature congenital disabilities and other morphological or functional problems.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Neonatal nurse practitioners specialize in the care and treatment of preterm and full-term newborn infants through the first few years of their lives. If becoming this type of nurse practitioner interests you, you may want to learn more about online nurse practitioner programs.
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: PNPs work alongside pediatricians to provide primary care for infants, young children and adolescents up to 21 years old.
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: WHNPs primary or acute care to older girls and to women. They provide OB/GYN care, pap smears, pelvic exams, prenatal care and help to women experiencing menopause.

FAQs

There are a few basic questions many ask when considering a career as a pediatric nurse. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions—and answers—for pediatric nurse candidates. 

What is a pediatric nurse?

Pediatric nurses care for children with a variety of medical and surgical conditions, both acute and chronic. An essential duty of a pediatric nurse is to educate both parents and patients about their case.

What does a pediatric nurse do?

Pediatric nurses care for sick and injured children, administer immunizations, monitor physical development and counsel parents. The pediatric nurse scope of practice may also extend into soft skills. Pediatric nurses provide patience, compassion and empathy, which is important for reaching children and comforting their parents. Pediatric nurses often make children feel comfortable in a medical office.

Where does a pediatric nurse work?

A pediatric nurse may be employed in a variety of settings, depending on what area of care they’re interested in. Pediatric nurses may work in stand-alone children’s hospitals, children’s departments within major hospitals or medical centers, or specialty outpatient facilities. Their services may vary depending on the setting. 

What is the difference between a pediatric nurse vs. pediatrician?

Pediatric nurses and pediatricians both provide medical care to children under 18. The difference is that pediatricians have completed medical school and are licensed medical doctors, while nurses have completed undergraduate education and secured nursing licensure. 

Information on this page was last updated in June 2021.