Find out exactly how to become a pediatric nurse with this step-by-step guide detailing exactly what it takes. We go into details such as what it is like to be a pediatric nurse, salary prospects, how long does it take to become a pediatric nurse, the pros and cons of the career and more. Let’s dive in and see if this might be the career for you!
What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?
Pediatric nurses provide a complete menu of healthcare services to infants, children, and adolescents. They work in close coordination with pediatricians and other medical professionals to build and implement all-inclusive care programs for young people who have medical problems, or who require preventive services to protect them from potential health difficulties. Pediatric nurses have in-depth knowledge about the various stages of childhood growth and development, and they know how to identify and treat the symptoms of common childhood illnesses and conditions.
In addition to their specialized medical duties, pediatric nurses strive to create trusting relationships with their young patients, to help them feel comfortable and relaxed while undergoing examinations or receiving treatment services. They may also develop close relationships with parents and other family members, acting as sources of information and offering reassurance during periods of crisis. Possessing versatile skills that are in high demand, pediatric nurses may be employed in hospitals, clinics, pediatrician’s offices, home care agencies, neonatal intensive care units, or pediatric intensive care units.
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How Much Does a Pediatric Nurse Make?
In 2019, registered nurses of all types had an annual median salary of $73,300, with hourly rates of $35.24 per hour. The salaries of experienced pediatric nurses are in line with these figures, and those who obtain jobs in pediatric intensive care units or neonatal intensive care units will make more than the industry average for all nurses.
The growth in available jobs for registered nurses as a whole is expected to increase by seven percent between 2019 and 2029. The services of pediatric nurses are required in all communities and cities, since pediatric services are now a standard offering at hospitals of all sizes.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Pediatric Nurse?
Depending on if you pursue the path of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (see details in step one below) it can take a little more than two to four years to become a pediatric nurse.
So, how many years of college to be a pediatric nurse will depend on which direction you go. In addition, if you pursue a master’s degree, which is generally optional but will make you more marketable, it can take up to six years of college to gain employment as a pediatric nurse.
To discover what is right for you, read the step-by-step instructions below to understand how to become a pediatric nurse.
How to Become a Pediatric Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing
The baseline requirement for nursing is an associate degree. However, medical facilities generally prefer candidates who have a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. Some states are even passing or discussing laws that would require registered nurses to complete bachelor’s degree programs, which is only reinforcing the movement away from the associate degree alternative.
Nursing degree programs are available at public and private universities in every state, giving you plenty of options to evaluate before you apply for enrollment. Needless to say, you should search for schools whose undergraduate nursing curriculum includes an ample number of elective course options suitable for aspiring pediatric nurses. This will include courses that cover basic and advanced topics in infant, child, and adolescent health, and also topics that relate to the various specialties that can be found within the pediatric nursing field.
Internships and externships are a critically important part of any academic curriculum for nurses. Local hospitals, children’s hospitals, clinics, and community health organizations frequently have a need for pediatric nursing interns, and often have established relationships with nearby universities that allow for easier placement.
Pediatric nurses can choose to focus on specific types of medicine, such as cardiology, endocrinology, dermatology, gastroenterology, or oncology. Or, they may also choose to specialize by seeking work in particular environments, including pediatric or neonatal intensive care units. If you have a specialty in mind, or become interested in one in your first one or two years in college, you can build your qualifications by seeking internships and externships in facilities that provide those types of services.
Step 2: Take the Licensing Examination to Become a Registered Nurse
With either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing, you’ll be eligible to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX). This is the standard examination for registered nurses, and you will have to take and pass this test to achieve this status and qualify for employment as a nursing professional.
Step 3: Find Entry-Level Employment as a Pediatric Nurse or Nursing Resident
Your bachelor’s degree and registered nursing license will qualify you for a position as a beginning pediatric nurse, in a pediatrician’s office, at a children’s hospital or clinic. or in the pediatric department of a traditional hospital.
You can also gain entrance to your chosen profession by landing a position as a pediatric nursing resident. Nursing residencies have become more popular and more widely available in recent years, and these paid positions will give you additional training that will complement your previous academic and internship-level experience.
Nursing residencies generally last between six and 12 months, after which you’ll make the transition to a full-time pediatric nursing position.
Step 4: Add Valuable Pediatric Nursing Certifications to Your Resume
In pediatric nursing, carrying certifications that attest to your skills, knowledge, and experience will increase your upward career mobility.
There are four primary certifications available (via examination) for practicing pediatric nurses:
- Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN). This prestigious certification is sponsored by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and endorsed by the Society of Pediatric Nurses. You can sit for the CPN certification exam if you have 1,800 hours of experiencing working in a pediatric nursing department or facility over the previous two years, or have been working continuously as a pediatric nurse for the past five years. Hours served can include time spent in management, consulting, or educational positions, in addition to time spent providing direct patient care.
- Pediatric Nurse-Board Certified (PED-BC). Often pursued as an alternative to the more well-known CPN certificate, the PED-BC is sanctioned by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. You can qualify to sit for the PED-BC exam if you have been working full-time as a registered nurse for two of the last three years and have gained at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice in pediatric medicine over that time. The required hours for this exam must involve direct patient care or the supervision of pediatric nurses who are providing that care.
- Registered Nurse-Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC). This certification is administered by the National Certification Corporation, and is suitable for neonatal nurses or for pediatric nurses who’ve gained expertise working in neonatal intensive care units. To take this exam, you’ll need to have at least two years (and 2,000 hours) of direct experience working in a neonatal intensive care unit, at least some of which should have occurred sometime in the previous two years.
- Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN). The American Association of Critical Care Nurses sponsors separate certification examinations for both pediatric and neonatal nurses who’ve provided treatment services to acutely or critically ill children or infants. Pediatric nurses interested in gaining this coveted credential must have completed 1,750 hours of clinical practice over two years in this specialty, or 2,000 hours of such experience spread out over five years if at least 144 or those hours were served within the past 12 months.
By adding these beneficial certifications to your list of accomplishments, you’ll become a more attractive candidate for higher-paying positions reserved for experienced pediatric nurses. You’ll also have greater opportunities for promotion in the facility where you’ve been working.
Step 5: Obtain a Graduate Degree in Nursing and Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
If you are wondering how to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, this is the section for you, which will detail that final step to take your career to the next level: becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Adding a master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing could qualify you to assume a position in medical administration or medical education. But it will also prepare you to make the transition from pediatric nurse to pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP).
Like other types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), pediatric nursing practitioners are allowed to take on a broader range of responsibilities in their chosen specialty. They are allowed to design and implement multilevel treatment and health maintenance plans for children, in coordination with pediatricians, conventional pediatric nurses, and others healthcare workers.
You currently need a master’s degree in nursing to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. But as of 2025 that standard will change and you will then have to complete your doctorate to qualify for nurse practitioner status.
If you decide to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, two important certifications are also available that can help verify your expertise and further your career prospects. These are the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care (CPNP-PC) certification and the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care (CPNP-AC) certification, either of which you can obtain by taking and passing an exam administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. You won’t need to gain actual experience as a nurse practitioner to sit for these certification exams, but instead will be eligible to take them once you complete your graduate degree program.
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Pediatric Nurse
Pros of Becoming a Pediatric Nurse
Pediatric nurses usually choose their careers based on their love of children, and they gain great personal satisfaction from providing vital care services to young people who really need their assistance. Children are pleasant patients even during difficult times, and will return the kindness they receive with appreciation and affection. In addition to nurturing and comforting children, pediatric nurses often form rewarding relationships with parents and extended family members, who hold them in high regard and are profoundly grateful for their expertise and patience.
Cons of Becoming a Pediatric Nurse
The work of pediatric nurses is often emotionally taxing. Unfortunately, children often enter healthcare environments seeking help for serious illnesses or injuries, and positive outcomes are never assured in these instances. The emotional trauma can be especially difficult to handle if the nurse has cared for the child over the years and developed a relationship with them and their family. Long hours are a fact of life for most nurses regardless of their specialty, and pediatric nurses will often find themselves on call or on duty for extended periods of time.
Important Characteristics of a Successful Pediatric Nurse
It’s a given that pediatric nurses should be genuinely fond of and have compassion for children. But to translate that compassion into action they must also have well-developed communication skills, including the ability to listen and respond appropriately based on the cues their young patients provide. Pediatric nurses must be able to communicate with children on their level, which will change based on the age and maturity level of the individual child.
While speaking and listening skills are important, pediatric nurses must also be highly attentive and be able to make judgments based on what they observe. Children won’t always be able to effectively articulate what they’re feeling or experiencing, leaving it up to pediatric nurses to figure it out by watching their body language, listening to their tone, and noticing small behavioral details that less observant people might miss.
No matter how friendly and trusting children are, they will sometimes experience fear and uncertainty when visiting medical facilities or undergoing invasive treatment procedures. That’s why pediatric nurses must be patient and remain calm when children are frightened and resistant—or when dealing with worried parents, who will often share their children’s anxiety. Pediatric nurses must also be able to maintain their patience and steadiness when complications arise or when sudden emergencies occur.
In addition to their steadiness, pediatric nurses must also have a high level of emotional endurance. They will frequently be thrust into stressful situations where children are suffering or in distress, and they must maintain their emotional equilibrium for as long as it takes for treatment to take effect and for their young patients’ symptoms to stabilize. That emotional endurance will also be required during their interactions with the loved ones of their patients, who also require empathy, compassion, and understanding.