According to Merriam-Webster, “pediatrics” is “a branch of medicine dealing with the development, care, and diseases of infants, children, and adolescents.” Knowing this, you might be able to guess that pediatric nurses are nurses who take care of children, and you would be correct! Pediatric nurses are specialized RNs who are certified to care for babies, toddlers, youths and young teens. More than 58 percent of all certified pediatric nurses work in either standalone children’s hospitals or children’s hospitals associated with major medical centers.

What is a Pediatric Nurse?

As explained above, pediatric nurses are nurses who have specialized in caring for juveniles. Exactly what they treat juveniles for can vary greatly according to the setting in which they provide care; however, like other registered nurses, pediatric nurses are generally expected to provide the following services to patients:

  • Perform a range of diagnostic and medical tests
  • Collect samples for testing
  • Prepare and in some cases administer medications
  • Measure vital signs
  • Record healthcare information

Pediatric nurses also treat illnesses common to children — i.e. tonsillitis, strep throat, chicken pox — and administer important childhood vaccinations — i.e. polio, measles, hepatitis. These duties must be conducted with sensitivity to the patient’s age, emotional needs and ethnic or cultural concerns, which can make the experience quite different from treating an adult patient. Additionally, pediatric nurses are responsible for helping parents to understand their child’s medical condition and possible options for treatment.

Although they perform many of the same duties as registered nurses, pediatric nurses typically undergo additional education and earn specialty certifications that demonstrate their competency in working with younger patients. Both types of nurses must earn bachelor’s degrees in nursing or a related field, but pediatric nurses commonly advance their education to the graduate level, and many earn Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees.

Step One: Earn Your Education

Specialty practice nurses, such as pediatric nurses, must first complete the basic requirements to become registered nurses.

The first steps are completing a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam to become registered nurses. After completing these steps, RNs should be able to advance their careers by diversifying into a specialty nursing field, such as pediatrics.

Going into pediatric nursing requires RNs to earn specialty certifications in the field, and many of these certifications require nurses to earn a graduate degree from an accredited nursing school first. As such, it is usually difficult to enter pediatric nursing without going back to school to earn a master’s or doctoral degree. It may also be necessary to work as a registered nurse for a certain period of time before becoming a pediatric nurse; oftentimes, RNs are able to log required clinical hours in pediatrics while working under supervision in hospitals and related clinical settings.


Many schools and universities in the U.S. offer master’s-level pediatric nurse practitioner programs and other related programs that can help graduates to apply for national certification as pediatric nurse practitioners. These degree programs include a mix of classroom and clinical experience intended to focus on core practice areas such as:

  • Child and adolescent theory and development
  • Childhood nutrition
  • Health assessment
  • Adolescent and child physiology and pathophysiology
  • Management of childhood health and wellness conditions

While enrolled in these programs, students may be able to gain vital clinical experience in a variety of settings, including school health clinics, community health departments, children’s hospitals and/or community pediatric clinics. Graduates of these programs are expected to be capable of providing primary care to infants, children and adolescents across these diverse clinical settings — an expectation they are called upon to demonstrate if they wish to earn the many pediatric specialty certifications in specialized pediatric patient care.

Step Two: Earn Your Certification

There are many different certifications that pediatric nurses can pursue, depending upon the field in which they work. In addition to passing the standard NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council for State Boards of Nursing, pediatric nurses often pursue one of the following certifications, each of which must be renewed:

  • Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN): As of July 2018, more than 4,400 nurses hold the CPEN certification, which is awarded by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. Eligibility requirements include logging a minimum of 1,000 hours of emergency pediatric nursing practice in the past two years, as well as possessing an unrestricted U.S. nursing license.
  • Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care (CPNP-PC): The CPNP-PC exam is for graduates of primary care pediatric nursing programs. Applicants must hold an unrestricted nursing license, and they must also have graduated from an accredited postsecondary institution that offers a concentration in pediatric primary care for NPs. Additionally, applicants must have a minimum of 500 hours of supervised direct care in primary pediatrics. At the end of 2016, more than 14,750 nurses held the CPNP-PC certification.
  • Registered Nurse, Board Certified (RN-BC): The American Nurse Credentialing Center offers this competency-based certification for registered nurses who specialize in pediatric care. The credential is valid for five years. Applicants must have an active RN license, as well as log a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in pediatric nursing within the past three years.

There are many other pertinent pediatric nursing certifications available as well, including Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS), Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (PCNS-BC) and Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON) certificates. Pediatrics is a broad field, and pediatric nurses should pursue the certifications that are appropriate to their desired specialty.

Step Three: Continuing Education

Continuing education is a crucial component to all specialty nursing fields. Each certification in pediatric nursing requires regular renewal, and completing nursing education coursework is essential to maintaining renewal eligibility.

There are many different organizations that offer continuing education for pediatric nurses. These include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the Society of Pediatric Nurses. Nurses should check with their credentialing agency to determine the scope of continuing education credits required to renew their pediatric nursing certifications.

In addition, since pediatric nurses are still considered RNs, it’s also important to maintain registered nursing credentials, not just pediatric nursing credentials. Regularly inquire with your state’s board of nursing in order to stay aware of any additional continuing education credits that may be needed to maintain your registered nursing credentials.

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