How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

Two Parts:Entering the FieldAdvancing Your Career

Pediatric nurses choose to face the unique challenges and rewards of working with children. They provide both preventative and acute care to their young patients, while helping to calm their fears (and those of their parents). They can work in settings ranging from hospitals to physician offices to schools, and are often the first line of medical care for their young patients. The path to becoming a pediatric nurse requires a general nursing degree, training and experience working with children, and often additional advanced certifications. The many benefits include a strong job outlook and the daily opportunity to make a positive impact on children's lives.

Part 1
Entering the Field

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    Consider your suitability for a pediatric specialty. Children are not just smaller adults, physiologically or psychologically. Their growing and changing bodies (and minds) require particular types of care and distinctive ways of providing it. Not all nurses, even exceptional ones, are cut out for pediatrics.[1]
    • First and foremost, you must embrace the challenges and rewards of working with children. You must also dedicate yourself to understanding their specific health needs.
    • You must be patient, understanding, and ready to deal with the unexpected. You’ll need excellent communication skills, including the ability to explain medical subjects to both small children and their parents.
    • You need to be willing and able to be a major figure in office visits — you will often be the “first line” of medical care. You need to be able to provide vaccinations to crying infants, exams to tantrum-throwing eight year olds, and sound advice to know-it-all teenagers.
    • Patient education and preventative medicine are of particular importance for pediatric nurses. It helps to have an interest in going out into the community — visiting schools, working at health fairs, etc. — to provide advice and care.[2]
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    Choose a nursing program. Pediatric nursing is a specialization for trained nurses, not a separate career path. In other words, you have to become a nurse before you can become a pediatric nurse.[3]
    • In the U.S., you can choose between an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree, which normally takes two years, or a Bachelor of Sciences in Nursing (BSN) degree, which typically takes four. An increasing number of trade schools, dedicated nursing schools, community colleges, and universities offer one or both of these options.
    • While the ASN degree offers the faster path, the BSN degree is generally considered the better path toward becoming a pediatric nurse (or any other type of specialized nurse, for that matter). With the strong demand for nurses, both ASN and BSN degree-holders should find employment, but those with the advanced degree will hold an automatic advantage in getting ahead in the field.
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    Take courses related to pediatrics. Most nursing schools do not have a specific track for pediatric specialties, but they usually do offer courses with a pediatric emphasis. If you are serious about a career as a pediatric nurse, take as many of these classes as possible while in nursing school.[4]
    • For instance, courses in child health and child psychology should be particularly useful. If you are in a nursing program at a college or university, you can probably find an array of elective courses that deal with childhood development.
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    Become a Registered Nurse (RN). By doing so, you will achieve official status as a nurse, and can then begin directing your career toward a pediatric specialty. To become an RN in the U.S., you must complete an ASN or BSN degree program and pass the NCLEX exam.
    • The National Council Licensure Exam for RNs is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The exam takes approximately six hours to complete, and is offered regularly in numerous locations. Check the NCSBN website ( for more information on the exam.
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    Gain experience working with children. Start while you are a nursing student, using your time to learn all you can about the pediatric nursing field. Read books, look at websites, talk to your teachers, and talk to current pediatric nurses.
    • The Society of Pediatric Nurses website offers information on the field, and the organization produces the Journal of Pediatric Nursing (
    • Volunteer in the pediatric wing of your local hospital, or a clinic, or anywhere else that provides care to children.
    • Apply for intern programs that offer new nurses training specifically for pediatrics.
    • Apply to work at sites that provide care to children, such as a pediatrician's office or pediatric after-hour care facility.
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    Seek recognition as an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) by your state board of nursing. Research the nursing requirements that are set up in the state you plan to practice in.[5]
    • Consider earning APN status as a step toward additional advanced certifications and licensures that are also either required or highly recommended for pediatric nurses.
    • You may also want to look into extending your education to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN), which normally requires an additional two years of coursework. As discussed in the following Part of this article, the MSN is a stepping stone to several advanced degrees and certifications in pediatric nursing, such as becoming a Certified Pediatric Nurse or Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.[6][7]

Part 2
Advancing Your Career

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    Become a Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN). In some states, CPN status is required for pediatric nurses, but it is recommended for everyone in the field. It demonstrates that you are certified to give specialized care to pediatric patients, and to educate them and their families on health topics.[8]
    • To become a CPN, you need to already be an RN and have at least 1,800 hours of documented experience in pediatrics during the previous two years. This experience can include work, training, or coursework in an MSN program, among other options.[9]
    • You also need to pass an exam to become a CPN. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) oversees the exam, and can offer valuable information on locating exam sites, fees for the exam, and procedures for registering for and taking the exam.
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    Determine your preferred work setting once you become a pediatric nurse. Just as the roles and requirements for pediatric nurses are different than those for other nurses, the setting in which you practice will make a significant difference in the type of work you do.[10]
    • You’ll always face the unexpected as a pediatric nurse, but if you prefer providing primary care services like vaccinations, checkups, and dealing with bumps, bruises, and stuffy noses in a somewhat more regimented environment, you may want to work in a pediatrician's office or become a school nurse.
    • If you want to care for acute, chronically ill, or critically ill children, you'll want to concentrate on acute care and specialty services, such as the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). You can seek out advanced certifications in such fields from organizations like the PNCB.
    • Consider your temperament, your ability to deal with children in varying stages of illness or injury, your ability to handle stress, and more practical matters like job availability and pay rates as you determine your preferred setting.
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    Find a pediatric nursing job that suits you. Employers may not necessarily be falling at your feet offering you great nursing jobs, but the demand for nurses (pediatric and otherwise) is exceptionally high in the U.S. Additionally, the future outlook indicates continued growth in demand and job openings.[11]
    • Utilize the placement office at your nursing school, as well as connections you've made through coursework, internships, and so forth.
    • The demand for pediatric nurses is typically greatest in hospital settings, so that may be the easiest place to secure your first job in the field. If that is not your preferred setting, you may want to gain experience in the hospital setting while keeping an eye out for a job at a pediatrician's office, school, clinic, government agency, etc.
    • In addition to real-world work experience, advanced training and certifications will most likely make it easier for you to score your ideal job in pediatric nursing.
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    Look into additional licenses and certifications. As with any job in the healthcare field, a pediatric nurse’s training is never truly done. As you settle into your career, it makes sense to always consider your next steps, including additional training and certifications that can enhance your work (and potentially earn you a bigger paycheck).[12]
    • There are numerous specialized certifications available for pediatric nurses, and they usually entail some sort of coursework and passing an examination.
    • Pediatric nurses with a Masters in nursing (MSN) can choose to become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) by completing the requirements, which include a nationally-administered exam. CNSs are specially trained to provide a family-centered approach to care and to provide enhanced expertise in patient consultation and education, among other distinctive aspects.
    • The MSN degree also permits you to seek certification as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP). PNPs possess advanced diagnostic and treatment training, and have the power to prescribe medicine in all fifty U.S. states. In some states, PNPs are also permitted to practice independently.

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