How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses care for children from birth through the teen years. Learn how to become a pediatric nurse and the average pediatric nurse salary.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 9, 2022

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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How to Become a Pediatric Nurse
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Nurses — including pediatric nurses — play an important role in the healthcare system. Pediatric nurses specialize in providing care for children.

These professionals need exceptional patient care and communication skills. Their role also requires compassion and understanding for their young patients. Prospective pediatric nurses can join the nursing profession in as little as two years.

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Ready to start your journey?

Registered nurses benefit from above-average salaries. In May 2021, RNs reported a median pay of $77,600 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That exceeds the median wage for all occupations of $45,760. Our guide walks through how to become a pediatric nurse.

What Does a Pediatric Nurse Do?

Pediatric nurses care for infants, young children, and adolescents. They work in a variety of settings, including primary care and hospital settings. Pediatric nurses in primary care settings conduct wellness exams and treat minor medical conditions. In hospitals, pediatric nurses may work in intensive care, oncology, emergency care, or cardiology.

Prospective nurses with no prior healthcare experience can enter the field with an RN license. Certified nursing assistants or licensed practical nurses can participate in bridge programs to qualify for an RN license.

Pediatric Nurse Responsibilities

  • Conduct comprehensive health assessments on children from birth through adolescence
  • Evaluate conditions during a physical exam to order diagnostic tests
  • Treat children with acute or chronic conditions in a variety of healthcare settings
  • Communicate with children and their parents about wellness and health
  • Coordinate care with other healthcare professionals, including physicians

Pediatric Nurse Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Pediatric Nurse?

The process of how to become a pediatric nurse takes several years. Nurses can work in pediatric settings with a two-year degree, although a four-year bachelor's program offers better preparation. This section lays out the steps and time commitment needed to become a pediatric nurse.

Step 1: Earn a BSN

Pediatric nurses will need an RN license. Nurses can pursue licensure with a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma. However, a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) represents the best option for new pediatric nurses.

Current nurses can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program to advance their education. Students who majored in a non-nursing field can also consider a second-degree BSN program.

While in a nursing program, students gain specialized knowledge and build soft skills. Investing in professional development during college also helps pediatric nurses. Clinical rotations in pediatric settings help nurses gain career-focused skills. Nurses can expect to pay between $9,400-$36,000 in college tuition and fees each year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam

The NCLEX-RN exam prepares nursing school graduates for licensure as a registered nurse. The computer adaptive test asks between 75-145 questions that cover care management, risk reduction, safety controls, basic care, health promotion, and other nursing topics. Test-takers have up to five hours to complete the exam.

Nursing programs prepare students for the exam. Test-takers can also find practice tests available through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which administers the test.

Step 3: Get a Job in a Pediatric Setting

After passing the NCLEX-RN and completing the RN licensure process, pediatric nurses can apply for jobs in hospitals, pediatric care centers, and doctor's offices. Nurses can improve their chances of landing a job by reaching out to recruiters, leveraging their network, and improving interviewing skills.

Early-career pediatric nurses can expect to make around $26 per hour, according to July 2022 data from Payscale. As pediatric nurses gain experience, their earning potential increases.

Step 4: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Pediatric nurses can work with a BSN degree. However, continuing education or an advanced degree can help pediatric nurses advance.

Common pediatric nursing specializations include:

At the graduate level, nurses can enroll in a master's program to specialize as a nurse educator, nurse leader, or pediatric nurse practitioner. Pediatric nurse practitioners benefit from a boost in earning potential and strong demand.

Step 5: Obtain Pediatric Certification

RNs can earn certification as a pediatric nurse. For example, the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board offers the certified pediatric nurse (CPN) credential.

Candidates for the CPN credential must demonstrate at least 1,800 hours of experience as a registered nurse in a pediatric setting within the past two years. Candidates then take a 175-question multiple-choice exam, which takes three hours. Test-takers who receive passing scores earn their CPN credential.

What to Know Before Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Accreditation

Pediatric nurses must attend an accredited nursing school. Students who attend an unaccredited program cannot receive a registered nursing license. In addition to an accredited program, students benefit from attending an accredited school. Reputable online colleges hold accreditation from the same accrediting agencies as on-campus colleges.

Cost

The cost of a BSN degree can range from $40,000-$100,000. Nursing students can potentially save money by earning their ADN degree through a community college and then enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program. Nurses must also budget $200 for the NCLEX-RN exam and any licensing fees required in their state. When researching programs, compare the total cost and consider online vs. on-campus programs. Keep an eye out for hidden costs.

Salary

According to BLS data from May 2021, registered nurses report a median annual salary of $77,600. However, Payscale reports a lower salary of around $61,000 per year for pediatric nurses as of July 2022. Salaries vary widely by workplace setting, location, and experience. Research pediatric nursing salaries in your area to learn about your earning potential.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

What qualifications do you need to become a pediatric nurse?

Pediatric nurses must hold a registered nursing license in their state. In order to qualify for a license, nurses must complete a two-year accredited nursing program. These programs either grant an associate degree or a nursing diploma. Many pediatric nurses also train in a bachelor's program, which takes four years. These nursing programs incorporate clinical rotations in pediatric settings.

After meeting the educational requirement, nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to apply for their RN license. With the license, nurses apply for positions in pediatric settings, including at doctor's offices, pediatric care clinics, and hospitals.

What is the fastest way to become a pediatric nurse?

Prospective pediatric nurses can join the profession in as little as two years. Even without any prior healthcare experience, a nursing student can become a registered nurse after earning their associate degree in nursing or completing a nursing diploma. These two-year programs build the clinical skills and knowledge required for nursing careers. During a nursing program, for example, learners complete clinical practicums in pediatric settings.

Pediatric nurses then take the NCLEX-RN exam, apply for their RN license, and pursue jobs in pediatric care settings. Many pediatric nurses also choose to earn their bachelor's in nursing to stand out on the job market. A bachelor's program generally takes four years.

Is pediatric nursing hard?

Pediatric nursing can be both challenging and rewarding. Pediatric nurses conduct routine wellness exams on healthy patients and treat children with acute or chronic medical conditions. In pediatrician's offices, pediatric nurses typically work regular hours, while those in hospital settings often work nights and weekends. Pediatric nurses also face unique challenges because of their patients. They often treat young children who are nervous or frightened. As a result, pediatric nurses must bring exceptional communication skills and patience to their role.

Can I become a pediatric nurse with an online degree?

Yes, you can become a pediatric nurse with an online degree. However, nursing programs require in-person components to complete the required training. For example, most programs that lead to RN licensure include simulations, clinical rotations, and other hands-on components. RNs seeking an advanced degree benefit from many online options. They can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program to complete their BSN or an RN-to-MSN program to earn a graduate degree. Many nursing schools also offer online graduate programs in nursing. Online nursing students typically meet clinical requirements at a local hospital or another healthcare facility.

How much does a pediatric nurse make?

The average pediatric nurse salary was around $61,000 in July 2022, according to Payscale. The BLS reports that registered nurses earned a median pay of $77,600 in May 2021. Pediatric nurse salaries vary by location, education, and setting. For example, certified pediatric nurses may earn a higher salary. Payscale reports that certified pediatric nurses earn around $75,000. In addition, an advanced degree helps pediatric nurses move into higher paying specialties. Pediatric nurse practitioners report an average salary of over $94,000, according to Payscale.

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