Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Last updated: February 27, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Becoming a Pediatric Nurse
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If you dream of building a meaningful career in healthcare and love working with children, becoming a pediatric nurse may be the perfect choice. It’ll allow you to perform a job similar to that of a pediatrician without spending three more years studying.

As a pediatric nurse, you’ll be working with young patients who often have a more positive and easygoing attitude, as opposed to adults and elderly patients. Kids are also easier to care for physically.

In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to become a pediatric nurse, where to study, what kinds of job duties await you, and how much you can potentially earn.

What do pediatric nurses do?

Pediatric nurses provide healthcare services exclusively to infants, children, and adolescents. They work closely with pediatricians and other healthcare professionals.

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The main goal of every pediatric nurse is to create a comforting and friendly environment for their young patients, helping them cooperate and feel at ease during medical procedures or treatments.

Common job duties of a pediatric nurse include:

  • Assessing patients’ medical history and symptoms and performing physical examinations.

  • Physically and mentally preparing patients for medical interventions.

  • Obtaining blood or urine samples.

  • Administering medications and treatments, including oral medications, injections, and intravenous therapies.

  • Monitoring and documenting children's vital signs.

  • Educating and providing guidance for little patients and their families.

  • Assisting other professionals with procedures and tests.

  • Handling emergencies and administering life-saving interventions.

  • Conducting preventive health checks.

  • Keeping patient records and maintaining documentation.

While the role can be emotionally demanding or even draining at times, many find the opportunity to make a positive impact on a child's health and well-being to be incredibly fulfilling and inspiring.

What’s the job outlook for pediatric nurses?

As a pediatric nurse, you can work in hospitals, private practices, pediatric clinics, schools, pediatric intensive care units, neonatal intensive care units, home healthcare, and community health centers.

You can also choose an exciting specialization based on your sphere of interest, including:

  • Pediatric critical care nursing

  • Pediatric oncology nursing

  • Pediatric emergency nursing

  • Pediatric primary care nursing

  • Pediatric neurology nursing

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, demand for nurse practitioners is projected to almost double in the next five years. Although the average growth rate for pediatric nurses is lower, the demand is still very present as some states are still facing large nursing shortages.

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As a pediatric nurse, you’ll have an easier time finding a job in states where the demand outweighs the supply, such as South Carolina, South Dakota, California, New Jersey, Texas, and Alaska.

How much do pediatric nurses earn?

According to Salary, the average annual salary for pediatric nurses is $77,200. The estimate will vary depending on where you work and the state where you are employed. Some private practices generously pay $105,000 a year or more.

Top-paying states for pediatric nurses are:

  • California

  • Hawaii

  • Oregon

  • Massachusetts

  • Alaska

If you want to gather diverse experiences while working in different clinical settings, it may be a good idea to become a pediatric travel nurse. Some resources suggest that travel nurses may earn around 15% more than on-staff nurses.

Is becoming a pediatric nurse right for you?

Working with children can be emotionally taxing on its own. If you add the stress of providing medical care to the mix, you’ll possibly get one of the most challenging jobs in healthcare.

On the other hand, children often have a more positive attitude toward life than adults. They're more resilient, honest, smiley, and curious. With them, many medical examinations and procedures can be conducted in a playful, relaxed manner, which allows both the little ones and the staff to feel at ease.

Because of that, genuinely enjoying being around kids is a must for this job. You need to have some general experience with children and teens, be it babysitting, working in a kindergarten, or being a school tutor. That will help you set realistic expectations and learn to talk to kids so they will listen.

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Since you’ll be working with children of all ages and backgrounds, you’ll benefit from having the following soft skills:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills. You’ll need to be able to communicate with children at their developmental level and also effectively communicate with their parents or caregivers.

  • Patience. Children may be scared, uncooperative, or unable to express their feelings and needs clearly. It’s important to stay patient and understanding while providing care.

  • Empathy. Showing understanding towards children and their families helps create a compassionate and supportive environment.

  • Cultural sensitivity. Understanding and respecting different cultural practices, beliefs, and values will help you build trust and provide individualized care.

  • Creativity. You need to be able to engage children through play, distraction, or humor with the goal of reducing anxiety.

  • Agility and flexibility. Pediatric nurses must adapt to changing situations and adjust their communication styles and techniques according to the child's needs.

  • Conflict management. Conflicts can arise between healthcare professionals themselves or between nurses and parents/caregivers, and you should be able to manage them effectively.

  • Healthy boundaries and resilience. Being around acutely ill or neglected children can be heartbreaking, but you, as a healthcare professional, should be able to set boundaries, cope with stress, and preserve your own well-being.

Steps to become a pediatric nurse

1. Earn a nursing degree

Obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent qualification, such as a General Education Development (GED) certificate, is a basic requirement when it comes to applying for a nursing program.

The most common nursing prerequisite courses include:

  • American Government

  • English

  • Math

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Ethics

  • General Psychology

  • Nutrition

  • Human Anatomy

  • Sociology

Choose an accredited nursing program to pursue either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The program duration varies:

  • ADN programs typically take around 2 to 3 years to complete.

  • BSN programs generally take 4 years to complete.

A BSN degree helps you unlock more career opportunities as well as a chance to earn more. There are some fast-track RN to BSN programs for individuals who want to advance their education more quickly.

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Whichever program you choose, it’ll allow you to not only get strong theoretical knowledge but also to gain valuable hands-on clinical experience. Some programs even offer specific pediatric clinical rotations to provide exposure to pediatric nursing.

2. Obtain licensure

After graduating from your nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam is required to become a licensed registered nurse (RN).

Before registering for the NCLEX-RN, you must submit an application for a nursing license to your state licensing board. Once your eligibility is verified and approved, you will receive authorization to take the exam.

The NCLEX-RN is a computer-based exam that assesses your advanced scope of practice with a focus on care management. It is divided into four main areas:

  • Providing a safe and effective care environment

  • Health promotion and maintenance

  • Psychosocial integrity

  • Physiological integrity

The exam consists of 75 to 145 questions, primarily in a multiple-choice format, and you will have a five-hour time limit to complete it.

On average, the pass rate for candidates educated in the U.S. is 80.9%.

3. Gain experience in pediatric care

The next step is to gain experience in general nursing practice before specializing in pediatrics. Working in pediatric healthcare settings allows you to gain the necessary skills, deepen your knowledge, and mentally prepare for the specialization.

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Many hospitals and healthcare institutions offer nurse residency programs specifically tailored for new graduates. These programs provide structured orientation and training in pediatric care, allowing you to gain practical experience under the supervision of experienced nurses.

Another option is to apply for nursing positions in pediatric units within hospitals or specialized pediatric healthcare facilities.

4. Pursue pediatric certification

Once you have gained general nursing experience, you can pursue a pediatric specialization. This can be done through pediatric-specific certifications, such as:

  • Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN). The CPN certification is offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). To be eligible for this certification, you must hold an active RN license and have a minimum of 1,800 hours of pediatric nursing experience within the past two years.

  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). PALS certification focuses on advanced life support techniques for pediatric patients. It is typically required for healthcare professionals working in emergency departments, pediatric intensive care units (PICU), and other settings where pediatric resuscitation may be necessary.

  • Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). NRP certification is specific to newborn care and resuscitation. It is often required for healthcare professionals working in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and labor and delivery settings. The NRP certification program is provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON). The CPHON certification is offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). To be eligible, you need an active RN license, a minimum of one year of experience in pediatric hematology/oncology nursing, and a minimum of 2,000 hours of practice in pediatric hematology/oncology nursing within the past two years.

6. Continuing education and professional development

Pediatric healthcare is a dynamic field. To stay competitive, demonstrate your commitment, and enhance your knowledge and skills, you should regularly attend workshops, conferences, and courses. You should consider pursuing a master’s degree as it’ll open even more doors for you as a professional.

Some employers may provide free courses or help you pay for courses as they’re interested in seeing you advance your career and become more confident in your clinical abilities.

FAQs about pediatric nurses

How hard is pediatric nursing?

Pediatric nursing can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding, as this job gives you a chance to make a positive impact on the lives of children and their families. You must be adaptable to the unique needs of children, handle emotional situations, and work collaboratively with families and a multidisciplinary team.

How to become a pediatric nurse after high school?

After you’ve obtained a high school diploma, complete a nursing education program, such as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Then, take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed registered nurse (RN). After that, gather practical experience in general nursing and pursue certifications specific to pediatric nursing, such as Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) or Certified Pediatric Nursing (CPN).

How long does it take to become a pediatric nurse?

Becoming a pediatric nurse typically takes from 2 to 6 years, depending on where you are in your educational journey. The process involves completing a nursing program, such as an ADN or BSN, which can take 2 to 4 years. Afterward, you’ll need to pass the licensing exam, gain experience in general nursing, and specialize in pediatrics through on-the-job training and certification programs.

How much does it cost to become a pediatric nurse?

Tuition for nursing programs can range from $3,000 to $40,000 per year. The cost of becoming a pediatric nurse in the U.S. can vary depending on the type of nursing program (ADN or BSN), the institution you attend, and additional expenses. You can explore various financial aid options, such as scholarships, grants, and student loans.

Start your training to become a pediatric nurse

Pediatric nursing is one of the few occupations where you get to be goofy with your patients while also performing complex and meaningful tasks. This job comes with enormous responsibility, but being around kids can help alleviate that pressure.

As a pediatric nurse, your job is to reduce the trauma that children face in the hospital and help normalize the hospital environment. You get a chance to educate them on how to take care of themselves and get back to having a happy and active life.

Excited to start or repurpose your career in healthcare? Join our community and learn from the experiences of other job seekers who have similar backgrounds. Also, make sure to explore our Resource Center, where you can get tips on how to land your dream job.

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