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How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

18 Min Read Published September 28, 2023
2023 Pediatric Nurse Career Guide | Nurse.org

A pediatric nurse provides specialized care to babies, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics nursing is appealing to many aspiring registered nurses (RNs) because it offers opportunities to provide new, promising futures to young patients.

But peds nursing is more than an emotionally satisfying career. It provides job security, room for growth, and enough variety in day-to-day tasks never to feel mundane.

This article will cover everything you need to know about becoming a pediatrics nurse. We'll discuss pediatric nursing education, salaries, top programs, job outlook, and more. Read on to gain more insights into this exciting and satisfying nursing specialty.

What is a Pediatric Nurse?

Pediatric nurses are registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with specialty training in pediatrics. This specialization allows them to take on roles working specifically with babies, toddlers, tweens, and teens. Pediatric nursing requires specialized knowledge to provide the best patient care because there are so many conditions specific to children and adolescents.

Pediatric Registered Nurse

You can find pediatric RNs work in various settings, like doctor's offices or a hospital's pediatric department. You must have at least an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and RN licensure to practice in this role.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Additionally,  there are pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) who take on advanced practice nursing roles. PNPs have additional responsibilities, like prescribing medications, performing developmental screenings, and administering immunizations. They hold advanced degrees in nursing and pass additional exams to practice.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Peds Nurse?

Being a peds nurse means you’ll have to know how to handle the sensitivities and limitations of the age of the patient you’re caring for. You’ll have to be a great communicator with a comforting bedside manner who can inform and educate worried parents. Helping children to grow up big and strong is really at the heart of what pediatric registered nurses do every day, making it an essential career for a healthy population.

What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?

Pediatric nurses work with patients ranging in age from newborns to teenagers, who have far different needs and frames of reference than adults. So, peds nurses don't just have to have mastery over their clinical nursing skills to connect with and treat their patients. They also benefit from background knowledge of subjects their patients care about, like fairy tales, cartoon characters, video games, or popular music. 

Pediatric nurses perform the following duties, depending on their work setting and role:

  1. Administering and educating about vaccines
  2. Administering medication and treatments
  3. Assessing patients’ conditions
  4. Creating nursing care plans for patients
  5. Helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing their results
  6. Helping to coordinate follow-up medical care
  7. Monitoring vital signs
  8. Observing behaviors and recording observations
  9. Performing physical assessments
  10. Recording symptoms and medical histories
  11. Taking blood and urine samples
  12. Teaching patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries

Peds nurses in a physician's office see far different patients and families than those in pediatric intensive care units (PICU) or oncology centers. However, all pediatric RNs must be able to listen and observe verbal and non-verbal cues to provide optimal care. They also need to understand children's unique needs and healing powers and how to extend their care practice to the adults in their patients' lives.

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What Is it Like to Work as a Pediatric Nurse?

A day in the life of a peds nurse depends on the type of healthcare facility you work at. Peds RNs and NPs in hospitals will work various shifts that provide care 24/7, while those working for a community organization might have more traditional hours.

The hours that a peds nurse will work depend on these variables and whether the facility assigns nurses to specific shifts. In most hospitals, pediatric nurses work 12 hours per shift, which may stretch longer if patient needs are high. If the facility uses a three-shift model with overlapping shifts, the pediatric nurse will likely work a ten-hour shift.

For those pediatric RNs in clinics or private offices, working hours will generally be restricted to daytime, between 8 in the morning and five at night. However, an increasing number of pediatric sites are offering extended evening and weekend hours.

Pediatric Nurse Salary

The average pediatric nurse salary in the US is $78,200 (Salary.com), a little higher than the median annual RN salary of $81,220 or $39.05 per hour (BLS).

Remember that salaries for any nurse can vary greatly, increasing with experience and depending on the employer. For example, a school nurse in a small private school will likely earn much less than a peds RN at a prestigious children’s hospital.

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Highest Paying Cities for Pediatric Nurses

Location is another significant factor that may impact your pediatric nursing salary. The ten cities with the highest average peds RN salaries are:

  • New York City, NY - $163,592 annually | $78.65 per hour
  • Berkeley, CA - $161,426 annually | $77.61 per hour
  • Grass Valley, CA - $159,515 annually | $76.69 per hour
  • Renton, WA - $158,125 annually | $76.02 per hour
  • Santa Monica, CA - $157,219 annually | $75.59 per hour
  • Merced, CA - $157,187 annually | $75.57 per hour
  • Daly City, CA - $156,074 annually | $75.04 per hour
  • San Mateo, CA - $155,576 annually | $74.80 per hour
  • Boston, MA - $154,665 annually | $74.36 per hour
  • Clovis, NM - $154,069 annually | $74.07 per hour

Via ZipRecruiter

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

Whether becoming a peds nurse has been your lifelong dream, or you're newly considering the profession, you'll find that the effort it takes to enter this rewarding specialty is well worth it. You have several options to become a peds nurse. However, many nurses start by pursuing a BSN or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. 

Step One: Become an RN

Pediatric nurse education starts like any other registered nurse, by attending an accredited nursing program and earning RN licensure. From there, you can go into different specialty areas like peds nursing.

To become a licensed RN, you must complete an approved program of study (either a bachelor’s or associate degree program) and pass the NCLEX-RN. For more information on becoming an RN, see our RN Career Guide.

Step Two: Gain Experience

Once you become a practicing RN, you can seek positions that will give you experience in pediatrics. This can help you decide whether the specialty suits you and earn additional certifications.

Step Three: Decide Whether to Pursue an Advanced Degree

In addition to your undergraduate education, you may also choose to pursue an advanced nursing degree. Many MSN and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) nurse practitioner programs specialize in pediatrics. Completing this part of your education will allow you to take on advanced practice roles, like becoming a PNP.

See our Nurse Practitioner Guide for more details on this career path.

Step Four: Get Certified

To really showcase an exceptional knowledge of pediatrics, RNs can take additional certification exams.

There are currently three organizations that offer peds nursing certification: 

  1. Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PCNB)
  2. American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  3. National Certification Corporation (NCC) 

Each certificate has its own exam, renewal requirements, and eligibility criteria.

>> Explore Pediatric Nurse Certification Review Materials*

How Long Does It Take To Become a Pediatric Nurse?

The most common path to becoming a peds nurse is earning a BSN or MSN, gaining experience, and getting a peds nursing certification. In general, this process takes six to eight years to complete and includes the following steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or master’s degree – 4-5 years
  2. Get licensed as a Registered Nurse 
  3. Gain experience working as a registered nurse – 2 years
  4. Take and pass the National Certification Examination for Certified Pediatric Nurse

Top Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

There are numerous programs that prepare students to become pediatric nurse practitioners, and our panel of nurses ranked them based on factors mentioned in the methodology. Because individual nursing pathways and careers take various forms, the top 10 programs are ranked in no particular order. 

1. University of Pennsylvania

  • Annual Tuition: $84,552
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 1 year

Founded in 1740, the Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest institutions in the nation. The university has an impressive 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, giving nursing students plenty of one-on-one time with professors.

UPenn's pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program comes in either a full-time one-year path or a 2-3-year part-time path, so students have several options. The program leads to an MSN, meaning students take fewer courses than if they enrolled in a DNP. UPenn prefers applicants with a BSN, RN license, and a year of pediatric nursing experience. 

2. Duke University

  • Semesterly Tuition: $14,525
  • Online: Yes
  • Program Length: 2.5 years

Often considered one of the best universities in the world, Duke University teaches over 15,500 students each year. Duke's NP programs, including its pediatric NP-primary care MSN, are also among the best in the world.

The pediatric NP MSN takes two and a half years, comes in both part-time and full-time formats, and uses a hybrid of online courses and onsite clinicals and simulations. Current NPs looking to transition into peds nursing can also enroll in Duke's post-graduate pediatric NP-primary care program. 

3. University of Washington

  • Quarterly Tuition: Resident - $10,826 | Non-resident - $15,440
  • Online: Hybrid
  • Program Length: 3 years

Located in Seattle, the University of Washington doesn't offer an MSN in pediatric nursing. Instead, aspiring pediatric nurses enroll in UW's pediatric NP primary care DNP, a three-year program designed for current BSN holders.

Students practice at some of the best healthcare facilities in the region, including Seattle Children's Hospital. At the end of the program, students complete a final project with a local clinical agency or organization. Courses come in a hybrid format, so students must live in the Seattle area.

4. Columbia University

  • Annual Tuition: $72,776
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 2-3 years

A top research center in busy New York City, Columbia University is a leading destination for graduate students. Columbia's DNP in pediatric primary care takes two to three years to complete, and students complete clinicals across the tri-state area.

Columbia states that students complete coursework over two years, though clinicals can easily push this program closer to three years in length. Upon graduation, students become eligible to earn licensure in New York, though many graduates go on to work in other states. 

5. Yale University

  • Annual Tuition: $49,018
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 2 years

Yale University, an Ivy League school founded in 1701, offers its pediatric NP-acute care program as an MSN or post-master's certificate. The master's degree takes two years, so the total program cost could be higher than other options.

Yale also lets students select a concentration in diabetes care, oncology, gender and sexuality health justice, or research. Students can also opt to study part-time and continue working while earning their degree. 

6. University of Pittsburgh

  • Annual Tuition: Resident - $30,290 | Non-Resident - $36,172
  • Online: Hybrid
  • Program Length: 3 years

Founded as the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787, the University of Pittsburgh is now one of the best public schools in the nation. Pitt is renowned for its doctoral programs, including the DNP in pediatric primary care. Created for current BSN holders, the DNP takes three years to complete and leads to certification in Pennsylvania.

Most courses in the program are on-campus, though several can be completed from a distance. Pitt also offers an MSN-DNP for current NPs, and this option comes entirely online. As a public school, Pitt is an excellent option for anyone who can take advantage of the in-state tuition rate. 

7. Rush University

  • Total Program Tuition: $87,448 (based on per-credit tuition rate)
  • Online: Yes
  • Program Length: 2-3.5 years

The academic part of Rush University Medical Center, Rush University, provides some of the Midwest's best medical and nursing programs. Located in Chicago, Illinois, Rush provides students with plenty of excellent clinical practice sites.

Rush's primary care pediatric nursing DNP takes as little as two years to complete, though some students take as many as three and a half years. Created for nurses with a BSN, the DNP primarily comes in a part-time format, with most courses offered online. Students complete their clinicals around Chicago, the main in-person requirement for the DNP. 

8. Johns Hopkins University

  • Annual Tuition: $52,704 
  • Online: Hybrid
  • Program Length: 3 years

Johns Hopkins University, a private school in Baltimore, Maryland, is the nation's original research university. The university is best known for its graduate degrees, particularly those in scientific fields.

The dual primary and acute care pediatric DNP has students complete most courses online, except for some on-campus immersions. The program only accepts BSN or MSN students with at least one year of full-time peds experience in an acute care environment. While the cost is steep, Johns Hopkins is recognized worldwide for its academic excellence.

9. Vanderbilt University

  • Total Program Tuition: $77,560 (based on per-credit tuition rate)
  • Online: Hybrid
  • Program Length: 1 year

Vanderbilt University has a prime location in Nashville, Tennessee, and is home to one of the best medical facilities in the region. Nurses who enroll in the pediatric NP MSN program complete clinicals at Vanderbilt and in the nearby area, including in Kentucky and Alabama. Students can also ask to get placed outside of the area, which is helpful for anyone looking for certification in a specific state.

The MSN embraces distance learning, letting students complete much of their education online. Full-time students finish this program in just one year, so the steep price is essentially a one-time cost. 

10. University of California San Francisco

  • Annual Tuition: Resident - $39,720 | Non-Resident - $54,822
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 2 years

A national leader in healthcare education, the University of California San Francisco offers one of the best MSN programs in pediatric nurse practitioner primary care. Students in the program enjoy clinical rotations in various settings across the Bay Area, from public health clinics to private family practices.

Interestingly, UCSF requires no previous RN experience, so that anyone can apply for this advanced nursing program. Of course, non-RN applicants must complete introductory nursing courses and clinicals during the program. Anyone living in California can also take advantage of UCSF's lower in-state tuition rates. 

Methodology

This list is based on several factors, including:

  • Reputation
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate, when available
  • Only ACEN or CCNE-accredited schools are eligible

Many pediatric nurses choose to earn a graduate degree, so this list considers the best graduate degrees for peds nurses. 

Nurse Panel

Our selection panel is made up of 3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees:

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC

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Where Can a Pediatric Nurse Work?

One major perk of being a peds nurse is that you can work in any facility that treats babies, children, or adolescents. Pediatric nurses' most common workplaces are hospitals and private pediatrician offices.

However, there is also a need for pediatric RNs and NPs in clinics, government agencies, social service agencies, community groups, and schools. On the other hand, some peds nurses focus on positions that provide family health education and offer health fair presentations and screenings.

According to The Institute of Pediatric Nursing, here is a breakdown of the most common pediatric nursing jobs:

  1. 30.3% in free-standing children's hospitals
  2. 28.3% in children's hospitals associated with a major medical center
  3. 11.7% in outpatient specialty care
  4. 9.9% in community hospitals
  5. 5.1% in outpatient primary care
  6. 4.8% in a major medical center
  7. 2.4% in a school setting
  8. 2% in home health care
  9. 0.8% in an ambulatory surgery center
  10. 0.4% in a psychiatric/mental health facility
  11. 0.2% in urgent care
  12. 0.2% in rehabilitation or extended care facilities

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What Skills Do You Need to Be a Pediatric Nurse?

In addition to clinical nursing skills and proficiencies, pediatric registered nurses and NPs face many challenges that require a specialized skill set. For example, they must be able to remain calm under pressure and communicate easily with children and adults.

Additionally, possessing specific personal characteristics will benefit you as a peds nurse. Children are a unique patient population, and offering high levels of compassion, reliability, and understanding will help you meaningfully engage with them throughout treatment.

People who are sensitive, empathetic, emotionally stable, and responsible make excellent pediatric nurses.

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What is the Career Outlook for a Pediatric Nurse?

Nursing will continue to be an in-demand field because of the continuing nursing shortage and the aging population. Consequently, RN jobs are projected to grow 6% through the year 2032, which is about as fast as all other professions (BLS). Adding a specialty like pediatric nursing will likely provide even more job security.

Increasing Demand for Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

In addition, some types of employers are searching for pediatric NPs to fill in-demand roles. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that only 3% of all NPs specialize in pediatrics as of 2022. Despite this massive PNP shortage, the need for pediatric care remains. So, PNP positions at children's hospitals and other healthcare facilities may stay in demand for years to come.

In-Demand Skills for Travel Nursing Jobs

Having specialized skills is also an excellent way to be a strong candidate for travel nursing jobs. Travel nurses get to work short-term jobs nationwide, usually for 12-week contracts (or sometimes longer). Experience and credentials in a high-demand area like pediatrics can give you an edge, diversifying your career growth opportunities.

Where Can I Learn More About Pediatric Nursing Careers?

You can learn more about peds nursing careers by exploring resources from leading professional associations. Here are a few to help you get started:

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Additionally, Nurse.org is an invaluable resource for everything you need to know about a career as a pediatric nurse. You’ll find the answers to many of your questions in these articles:

Being a peds RN is an enriching career. By helping children thrive, you help the world to do so, too.

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