How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Nursing can be considered more than an occupation, rather a calling. This sentiment may be especially relevant for pediatric nursing. Pediatric nurses care for children of all ages in a variety of healthcare settings. These specialty nurses must be knowledgeable about growth and development as they care to an individual child’s developmental level. A pediatric nurse must also acknowledge the expertise of a child’s family and collaborate to provide care for the child.1 Dedication to child health care may be important to pediatric nursing, but it’s also imperative to understand the skills and education that may be needed for this career.

Skills and Characteristics

There are general characteristics that registered nurses should possess. Pediatric nurses, as RNs, may also need these specific skills when dealing with minor patients and their families:

Critical-thinking skills – Nurses must evaluate changes in the health status of patients and determine corrective action when necessary and when to consult another professional for a referral.

Good communication skills – Effective communication is needed when dealing with patients, especially children, to understand his or her concerns and assess health conditions. A nurse must also be able to clearly explain instructions to his or her patients.

Compassion and empathy – Nurses should be caring and understanding when looking after patients.

Detail oriented – Nurses should be responsible and detail oriented in order to ensure that patients receive the correct treatments and medicines.

Emotional stability – Emotional resilience is important, along with the ability to manage emotions to cope with human suffering, emergencies and other health care industry stressors.

Strong organizational skills – Nurses work with numerous patients with various diagnoses, so organizational skills are key to ensure that each patient is given the correct care.

High physical stamina – It is important for a nurse to be comfortable performing physical tasks, like moving patients, and are generally required to be on their feet most of their shift.2

Required Education

Nursing students learn to care for children through formal courses and guided clinical experiences. Undergraduate nursing curriculums don’t offer specific programming for pediatric nurses.1

To begin specializing in pediatrics, however, a student must first become a registered nurse (RN). Though an associate’s degree may be sufficient for entry-level RN jobs, some employers require a candidate have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). These bachelor’s degree programs in nursing include additional education in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership and critical-thinking. A BSN generally takes four years to complete.2

While it isn't always required to begin as a pediatric nurse, some BSN students go on to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These master’s degree holders can then advance as specialized Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs) or Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) in Pediatrics. MSN programs are generally two years in length or longer for part-time students.1

Certifications and Licenses

Upon completion of an accredited nursing program, aspiring pediatric nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX).2 Once approved to take the test, registration and an exam fee are required (currently $200 or varies depending on other fees required by the state where the exam is administered).3

After passing the NCLEX, the newly-licensed nurse should typically apply to work at a health care facility that serves pediatric patients. Many of these sites offer internships or orientations which provide classroom and clinical experience directed to the unique characteristics of children.1

After gaining experience, pediatric nurse certification is available through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). The PNCB finds that “[b]eing certified sends a message that a nurse has specialty knowledge beyond RN licensure. Board certification may benefit nurses with increased compensation, enhanced career mobility and recognition of validated expertise by employers, colleagues and patients.” 4

While the process can vary, generally the criteria for consideration for certified pediatric nurse (CPN) eligibility includes:

  • Possession of a valid and unencumbered current RN license
  • Proof of at least 1,800 hours of experience in pediatric clinical work within 24 months as an RN or a minimum of 5 years as a pediatric nurse and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing within the last 5 years with a minimum of 1,000 hours within the past 24 months.5

Pediatric work experience that counts toward these hours includes clinical pediatric research, home health care for children or infants, school-based care, teaching and administration, patient consultations or direct patient care.5

Another organization, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, also supports certification programs for pediatrics. Both organizations have an initial exam and subsequent requirements for continued certification.1

Job Market for Pediatric Nurses

With all of the necessary education, schooling, experience, licensing and testing completed, CPNs can apply for employment in children’s hospitals, community hospitals, schools, home health care, military facilities, specialty clinics, special needs day cares, public health agencies and primary care practices. Applying for positions in primary and secondary schools, as well as in private practices or children-centered community groups that offer preventative care for youths may also be an option.6

In 2014, the number of registered nurse jobs in the U.S. was reported around 2.75 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, the BLS projects that nursing careers is expected to grow, with a projected growth of 16% through 2024 — a much faster than average rate compared to other occupations.7

What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis

A pediatric nurse's focus is on the care and treatment of children of all ages, but responsibilities may vary depending on the nurse's department or specialty. Children who require more frequent or invasive monitoring, such as those with severe or life-threatening conditions, are cared for in pediatric intensive care units (PICUs). Professionals working in the PICU generally have advanced knowledge and training in the care of critically ill children.1

Intermediate care is also provided to children who are acutely ill and need more frequent monitoring than provided in a general care unit but less than in the PICU. Intermediate care facility staff are specially trained in recognizing early signs of problems and how and when to intervene.1

Nurses working in pediatric rehabilitation units offer a combined rehab and nursing care to prepare a child and his or her family for the child’s return home and reentry into normal life with any remaining disability.1

All in all, no matter what setting a professional works in, pediatric nursing can be a challenging and rewarding career.8

Start Your Nursing Journey at CTU

Colorado Technical University (CTU) offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). CTU’s RN-to-BSN program is designed to help nurses prepare and develop knowledge and skills to pursue practice options for a variety of clinical and administrative environments.


1. “Becoming a Pediatric Nurse.” Retrieved from: http://www.pedsnurses.org/becominganurse (Visited 6/30/17).
2. “How to Become a Registered Nurse.” Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-4 (Visited 6/30/17).
3. “Fees and Payment.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncsbn.org/1203.htm (Visited 7/3/17).
4. “CPN Exam.” Retrieved from: https://www.pncb.org/cpn-certification-steps (Visited 7/3/17).
5. “Benefits of CPN Certification.” Retrieved from: https://www.pncb.org/cpn-certification-benefits (Visited 7/3/17).
6. “The Certified Pediatric Nurse.” Retrieved from: https://www.pncb.org/cpn-role (Visited 7/3/17).
7. "Registered Nurses: Pay." Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1 (Visited 7/3/17).
8. "Choosing a Career in Pediatric Nursing.” Retrieved from: https://www.pncb.org/students (Visited 6/30/17).

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program, go to www.coloradotech.edu/disclosures. CTU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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