How to Become a Pediatric Nurse: A Guide to Getting into Child Health Nursing
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When a child receives a sticker after a booster shot, it’s usually a pediatric nurse handing it out. A pediatric nurse is a specialized registered nurse who provides healthcare to infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric nurses work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, pediatricians’ offices, and specialty units dedicated to the care of children.
Pediatric nurses deliver comprehensive care to young patients, promoting their well-being, and supporting their families. There is a growing demand for pediatric nurses, with a projected job growth rate of 12 percent between 2018 and 2028. It’s an exciting time to explore the path to becoming a pediatric nurse.
Understanding the Role: Pediatric Nurses
A pediatric nurse specializes in caring for infants, children, and adolescents, typically from birth to around 18 years of age. These nurses have expertise in assessing and addressing pediatric patients’ unique medical, developmental, and emotional needs.
The main responsibilities of a pediatric nurse include:
- Assessment and care planning: Pediatric nurses assess the physical, developmental, and emotional health of their young patients, then develop individualized care plans.
- Medication administration: Their responsibilities include administering medications to pediatric patients. They must perform accurate calculations and carefully administer dosages, especially for infants and children with specific medication requirements.
- Monitoring and observation: When working with children admitted to the hospital or clinic, pediatric nurses monitor vital signs, symptoms, and changes in the child’s condition to identify potential complications and promptly report them to the healthcare team.
- Family education and support: Parents, especially new parents, often have many questions about child development. Pediatric nurses educate families about their child’s condition, treatment plans, and home care instructions, offering reassurance.
- Developmental care: The developmental needs of pediatric patients at different ages, from infants to adolescents, vary widely. Highly-trained pediatric nurses have the skills to serve their patient’s needs at any age.
- Pain management: Pain assessment and management for pediatric patients may involve using age-appropriate pain relief techniques and medications which are part of a pediatric nurse’s training.
- Emergency response: One of the hardest parts of the job is responding effectively to emergencies involving pediatric patients, such as respiratory distress, seizures, or trauma. A good pediatric nurse provides immediate care while maintaining a calm and reassuring presence.
Pediatric nurses fit into the healthcare system by collaborating with pediatricians, healthcare providers, and interdisciplinary teams to ensure comprehensive care for younger patients.
What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?
Caring for infants, children, and adolescents has unique challenges. Their bodies and development stages impact everything from how a nurse communicates with a patient to which treatments are available. While there’s no such thing as a typical day in pediatric nursing, a pediatric nurse might do any or all of the following.
When a child is brought into a room, the nurse conducts a thorough physical assessment, including vital signs, growth measurements, and developmental milestones. If necessary, they’ll administer medications, ensuring accurate dosages and addressing any concerns about medication administration. During routine check-ups, they might give vaccines and immunizations and educate parents about vaccine benefits and risks.
Parents and caregivers will have questions or might need to learn the questions to ask, about how to care for their children properly. Pediatric nurses answer questions about pediatric health, nutrition, growth, and development, putting complex medical terminology in layman’s terms. Whether in a clinic or a hospital ward, they support age-appropriate activities and developmental needs, foster a child-friendly environment, and provide play therapy.
In more emergency or critical situations, a pediatric nurse provides wound care and changes the dressings for injuries or surgical sites, preventing infection and speeding healing. For patients with IVs, they’ll administer intravenous fluids and medications and monitor the IV site for complications. While caring for patients in more critical conditions, they’ll assess and manage their pain, using age-appropriate pain relief techniques and medications.
Depending on their department, a pediatric nurse could provide education and assist with treatment plans for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy. They often collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, pediatricians, specialists, and therapists to ensure comprehensive care plans are implemented, all while keeping themselves calm during stressful situations.
Working in pediatric wards and clinics requires healthcare professionals to have a deep understanding of pediatric care, effective communication skills, empathy, and the ability to address the unique challenges of caring for children and adolescents.
Pathway to Becoming a Pediatric Nurse
Becoming a pediatric nurse requires completing specific educational prerequisites that build a foundation of the knowledge and skills to care for infants, children, and adolescents. After graduating high school, here’s the path to take.
- While an associate degree in nursing (ADN) might be enough to become a pediatric nurse in some clinics and hospitals, a BSN degree is becoming increasingly preferred for nursing positions.
- A BSN program takes around four years to complete and offers a comprehensive nursing theory, clinical skills, and healthcare ethics education.
Licensure as a registered nurse (RN)
- Upon completing a degree, aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse.
- RN licensure is a mandatory requirement to work as a pediatric nurse.
- Clinical experience develops general nursing skills and an understanding of healthcare practices. Practical experience helps many nurses identify where they want to specialize.
Pediatric nursing experience
- Work in pediatric units, clinics, hospitals, or healthcare facilities to gain exposure to pediatric patients and their unique care needs.
Specialized pediatric courses
- Some nursing schools offer specialized pediatric nursing courses which provide in-depth knowledge about pediatric growth and development, common pediatric health issues, and pediatric nursing practices.
- While not a strict requirement, a certificate in pediatric nursing demonstrates that a nurse has the specialized expertise and commitment to the field to perform well as a pediatric nurse. Certifications like the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) can enhance a nurse’s credentials.
Before enrolling in any program or certification course, research the specific requirements of the nursing roles set by the healthcare facilities in the area. Then, investigate which pediatric nurse programs are best suited for preparing nurses for this role.
Diving Deeper: Pediatric Nurse Certification Requirements
After becoming a licensed registered nurse – one of the pediatric nurse certification requirements – aspiring pediatric nurses can begin the certification path. Because pediatric nurses work with a unique population of patients, certification is crucial for child healthcare. It demonstrates that the certificate holder has the knowledge and skills to work as a pediatric nurse.
Each of these certifications demonstrates expertise in a specific area of pediatric care, prepares nurses for the challenges of pediatric nursing, and enhances a nurse’s earnings potential.
Certifications offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) include:
- Tests for proficiency in pediatric nursing across various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and schools.
- Focuses on advanced practice nursing in pediatric primary care or acute care.
The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) offers a certificate for pediatric nurses who expect to handle emergencies.
- Validates expertise in pediatric emergency care and the ability to provide safe and effective care in emergencies.
Pediatric patients might need to travel between hospitals, which is why there is the following certification:
- Focuses on the safe transport of critically ill pediatric and neonatal patients.
The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) has two certifications.
Certified pediatric oncology nurse (CPON)
- Validates expertise in caring for children and adolescents with cancer and supports quality care for pediatric cancer patients.
Certified pediatric hematology oncology nurse (CPHON)
- Focuses on the care of pediatric patients with hematologic and oncologic disorders.
These certifications demonstrate a commitment to excellence in pediatric health. Additionally, certified professionals often receive increased recognition, better job prospects, and potential for higher compensation due to their specialized expertise.
The steps to obtain certification in pediatric nursing include becoming a licensed registered nurse, gaining practical experience, studying for the certification exam, and sitting for the exam.
What Makes a Good Pediatric Nurse?
Working with young patients requires medical expertise and a deep understanding of their developmental, emotional, and psychological needs.
Pediatric patients are often scared, anxious, or in pain. Young children don’t understand pain and can’t consistently articulate what hurts them. A good pediatric nurse shows genuine empathy and kindness when dealing with patients. They create a supportive and comforting environment, actively listen and engage with patients and parents, and take the time to explain medical concepts in simple terms.
Pediatric nurses draw on patience and adaptability to respond to the unpredictable nature of children. Kids may react differently to treatments or procedures, and a nurse might have to adjust their approach based on the child’s response quickly. A good pediatric nurse has a friendly and approachable demeanor, uses distraction techniques, and employs play therapy to create a child-friendly atmosphere that alleviates fear and anxiety.
Pediatric nurses must have a strong foundation in pediatric nursing, including knowledge of growth and development, common childhood illnesses, and specialized treatment modalities. They’ll apply this knowledge and critical thinking skills when working with patients who cannot describe their symptoms clearly. Critical thinking helps pediatric nurses assess signs and symptoms, and detect changes in condition to make timely decisions.
Advocating for the rights and best interests of pediatric patients, who sometimes can’t speak up for themselves, is part of being a good pediatric nurse. To do so effectively, they must understand and respect diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs. Families and patients appreciate a more collaborative approach to decision-making, and giving a scared child a say in their care can empower them.
Pediatric care often involves collaboration with multidisciplinary teams. To succeed as a pediatric nurse requires effective communication and coordinating care with others to achieve optimal outcomes. And a positive attitude and can-do spirit is a must.
The field of pediatric care is constantly evolving. To stay on top of recent developments in the profession, nurses should commit to ongoing learning and stay updated on the latest research, practices, and advancements.
While the focus when becoming a pediatric nurse is often on gaining clinical skills and developing a bedside manner, pediatric nurses shouldn’t forget to take care of themselves and their patients. Working in pediatric healthcare is emotionally demanding work, and experienced pediatric nurses learn how to manage their emotions, recognize burnout, and seek support when needed.
The Realities: How Hard Is It to Be a Pediatric Nurse?
It’s not easy to be a pediatric nurse. While working with children can be both fun and deeply rewarding, it has its challenges.
Not everyone finds it easy to communicate with children. Young patients may have limited verbal skills, be fearful of medical professionals and procedures, and not know how to describe their symptoms. While trying to coax information out of them, a pediatric nurse must also help allay their fear and anxiety about hospital stays, shots, and more.
Because of these communication challenges, diagnosing certain pediatric conditions can take some creativity. Variations in symptoms and possibly non-verbal patients, combined with parents who unfortunately may be hiding situations like abuse, will test a pediatric nurse’s ability to read between the lines.
Parental involvement in care and family dynamics add an extra layer of complexity to pediatric care. Pediatric nurses must learn to balance the need to involve parents and caregivers in decision-making with respect for the child’s autonomy, especially in cases involving adolescents. Communication with separated or divorced parents could have tense undertones and require tact and delicacy.
It can be emotionally challenging to care for vulnerable populations. Caring for medically fragile infants, children with complex medical needs, and those with disabilities, which requires specialized expertise and patience will draw upon a nurse’s patience and emotional strength. Pediatric nurses can expect to lose some patients when dealing with emotional and sensitive situations, such as pediatric oncology, palliative care, and end-of-life support.
Whether trying to get a three-year-old to describe where they feel itchy or handling a trauma case in the emergency room, pediatric nurses have unique challenges in their daily work.
Compensation: How Much Do Pediatric Nurses Make?
The average pediatric nurse in the United States makes $74,102 a year. Education level has a big influence on annual earnings – pediatric nurses with a master’s degree earn $92,943 annually compared to those with bachelor’s degrees who make an average of $85,211 a year.
According to career and job website Indeed.com (2023), average pediatric nurse salaries vary widely by state. The annual salary of a pediatric nurse in Florida is $65,780, whereas a pediatric nurse in New Jersey makes $98,280 annually, on average.
Pediatric nurses typically receive benefits such as healthcare, dental, retirement, and continuing education reimbursement. As they grow in their career and obtain more education and certifications, they can advance and increase their earnings.
Pediatric Nurses Fill an Important Role in the Healthcare System
Pediatric nurses fill a crucial role in the healthcare system. They set young patients on the path to good health and build their trust in the medical system. While aspiring pediatric nurses can count on challenges, they can also count on gap-toothed smiles and the reward of making a difference in a child’s life.