What It Takes to Be a Pediatric Nurse

nurse with young patient holding teddy bear

Pediatric Nursing at a Glance

What you’ll do: Care for children, from newborns to teens. Depending on where you work, you could provide preventive care or specialty for care for children who are seriously ill or have medical conditions.

Where you’ll work: Hospitals, including dedicated children’s hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, and more

Degree you’ll need: An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Median annual salary: $81,220

Pediatric nurses work in doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, surgical centers and other healthcare settings. Their skills bring a particular comfort to children being treated in acute care departments, such as the neonatal unit, pediatric critical care unit and pediatric oncology ward, and to their parents.

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse in 5 Steps

Qualifying to work as a pediatric nurse requires education, training, and licensure. These steps can guide you on your journey.

Determine what education you’ll need.

woman researching programs and writing in notebook

You can be a pediatric nurse with an associate or bachelor’s degree. While it’s quicker to get an associate degree, you may find more job opportunities with a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate from an accredited program.

man in lecture hall with other students sitting behind him

A high-quality program will be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Become licensed as a registered nurse (RN).

nurse pulling on latex glove

As you near graduation, you’ll want to register for the NCLEX-RN exam, a national exam that you must pass to qualify for an RN license. These licenses are issued by individual states.

Gain experience in pediatric nursing.

nursing using stethoscope on young patient

There are many ways to get experience in pediatric nursing, including doing clinical hours in pediatrics as part of your degree or volunteering in the community.

Earn certification as a pediatric nurse.

man using stethoscope on young child patient

Take your education further by getting a certification like the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) credential. Certification demonstrates knowledge and expertise and shows your commitment to a field or specialty.

What Is a Pediatric Nurse and What Do They Do?

Pediatric nurses work with patients who haven’t reached adulthood—from newborns to teenagers. While it can be rewarding to work with this age group, it can require extra patience and understanding since children can view healthcare situations as intimidating.

“The greatest part about being in pediatric nursing is that it becomes more than just a job—kids depend on your compassion to get through the ‘scary things,’ and you need finesse to play by their rules to get the job done,” said Christian Leon, RN, BSN, who works as a pediatric nurse at a children’s hospital in Utah. “Children bounce back so quickly and it is the most rewarding part of my day to see a kid leave with a smile on their face.”

Pediatric nurses do more than care for their patients. They often play a crucial role in ensuring that children have a positive healthcare experience.

Depending on where they work, pediatric nurses can have a wide variety of responsibilities. Some of their most common duties include:

  • Evaluating and documenting patient symptoms
  • Checking vital signs
  • Completing diagnostic tests
  • Administering medication
  • Performing minor procedures like drawing blood or giving vaccinations
  • Educating parents about a child’s injury or treatment

Skills and Traits of a Successful Pediatric Nurse

These skills and traits can help you shine in this field.

Communication: Pediatric nurses need to communicate with patients in a way that makes them feel safe. They also need to have effective communication skills to discuss the concerns of parents.

Creativity: Sometimes pediatric nurses need to be creative to engage with their patients, especially younger ones. “Hospitals can sometimes be boring, so being creative (in addressing) their specific needs can go a long way,” says Leon. “One time I played a game of Uno with a patient to gain their trust; then they let me do vital signs and a physical assessment.”

Time Management: Nurses need to be able to juggle patient care and administrative tasks to work efficiently. This can be especially true for pediatric nurses. “Kids play by their own rules, so you need to be able to manage time well for whatever they throw at you,” says Leon.

Problem Solving: Pediatric nurses will often need to identify health problems and then start care. Excellent problem-solving skills can help you succeed and add to patient safety.

Compassion: A big dose of compassion is sometimes the best care a pediatric nurse can provide. “To kids, this could very well be the scariest thing they have had to deal with,” says Leon. Being able to sympathize with what a patient is experiencing will help the visit go more smoothly.

Where Pediatric Nurses Work

Pediatric nurses can work in a variety of settings, and duties can vary from workplace to workplace.  Some of these places:

  • Hospitals: Pediatric nurses work in dedicated children’s hospitals or in pediatrics departments within a hospital. They also work with children in ICUs and oncology departments.
  • Physicians’ Offices: A pediatric nurse in a physician’s office may be responsible for conducting a child’s initial health assessment, updating electronic patient records, and obtaining samples for medical tests.
  • Community Clinics: Pediatric nurses who work in a community clinic can expect responsibilities similar to those in a physician’s office.
  • Surgical Centers: Pediatric nurses who specialize in surgery can be found in these centers. They will need special certification to assist with operations.
  • Schools: Schools typically employ pediatric nurses to care for students who are sick and compile student and staff records for immunizations, visual testing, and other health matters.

Pediatric Nurse Education Requirements

There are two paths for formal education to become a nurse: an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While you can start your pediatric nursing career sooner with an associate degree, some employers require nursing candidates to have a bachelor’s degree.

It may be worthwhile to take the time to earn a bachelor’s degree to open more job opportunities.

Associate Degree in Nursing

  • Prerequisites: You’ll need a high school diploma or a GED to enter an associate program. Some ADN programs don’t have coursework prerequisites, while others will require anatomy and physiology for admission.
  • Core Curriculum: Expect coursework in pharmacology, the essentials of nursing, psychology, and nursing care for a variety of patients.
  • Clinical Requirements: Students will gain hands-on skills at simulation centers run by their program and by doing supervised clinical work in a healthcare setting. Time requirements can vary, but a student can expect to complete as many as 435 clinical hours.
  • Time to Complete: An ADN can be completed in 18-24 months, depending on how much time you can dedicate to school.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

  • Prerequisites: You’ll need a high school diploma or a GED, plus coursework in chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, and physiology.
  • Core Curriculum: Students will take advanced courses covering health assessments, research, management, and care competencies and skills.
  • Clinical Requirements: Clinical curriculum can include clinical rotations, labs, and simulation work. Requirements will vary with each program, but students can expect to train in a variety of clinical settings for 700 to 800 hours.
  • Time to Complete: A BSN typically takes four years to complete.

Online Pediatric Nursing Programs

There are hybrid nursing programs available. Some offer coursework online, which makes it convenient for students who can’t attend on-campus classes and need flexibility. Clinical rotations will still need to be completed in person under the supervision of an experienced nurse who can ensure that tasks and procedures are being performed properly.

However, if you’re already a registered nurse (RN) with clinical experience and want to earn a bachelor’s degree, you might find some programs that are entirely online.

What to Look for in a Pediatric Nursing School

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a school:

  • School and Program Accreditation: Look for programs that have accreditation from the ACEN or CCNE. Accreditation means a school and program have met the standards of a quality education.  
  • Job Placement and Career Counseling: Some schools offer these services, which could be valuable as you look for your first job.
  • Pass Rate for National Nursing Exam: Passing this exam, the NCLEX-RN, is key to getting a state license to practice nursing. You’ll want to know the first-time pass rate for students who took the exam in the most recent academic year: A high first-time pass rate could indicate a strong nursing program.
  • Graduate Success: A high percentage of students from the most recent graduating class who have jobs as nurses may indicate how well employers regard a program and its graduates.

Licensure for Pediatric Nursing

It’s not enough to simply get a degree in nursing. Students must also obtain a license before they can practice. To be licensed, all prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).

The NCLEX-RN is a computerized test that’s tailored to each student by basing questions on the test taker’s answer to the previous question. The test personalizes how many questions you’ll answer based on your performance, with a range of 74-145 questions.

You’ll have up to five hours to answer questions, which will focus on:

  • Safe and effective care environments
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity, care that supports the emotional and mental well-being of a patient under stress
  • Physiological integrity, care that adequately meets the everyday activities of a patient

It’s not enough to simply get a degree in nursing. Students must also obtain a license before they can practice.

Your degree program will most likely provide you with resources to prepare for the NCLEX-RN, so be sure to check for study materials.

Once you have passed the NCLEX-RN, you can apply to your state nursing board for a license. State requirements vary, but you may need to provide fingerprints or undergo a background check.

Gain Experience

With your nursing license in hand, you can start looking for positions as a pediatric nurse. You may be able to use any pediatric clinical rotations you completed in college to show you’re qualified to work with children.

Once you gain professional experience, you can qualify to earn a certification as a pediatric nurse.

Pediatric Nursing Certifications

Earning a pediatric certification has several benefits:

  • Professional recognition of your expertise and knowledge: Prospective employers looking for highly qualified pediatric nurses may expect candidates to be certified.
  • Higher salary: Nurses with specialized training may earn more because of their valuable skills.
  • Career advancement: You may find more job opportunities with a pediatric certification.

“Certification is valuable in terms of demonstrating knowledge,” says Leon. “It does help during the interview process and gives you priority over other applicants.”

Here are three common certifications for pediatric nurses.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

  • What it Is: This is the most common certification for pediatric nurses, and it’s offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).
  • Who it’s For: All pediatric nurses can qualify for this certification, including those who work in home care, public health, schools, outpatient clinics, and hospitals.
  • Requirements: Candidates must have an RN license and a minimum of 1,800 hours as an RN in a pediatric nursing specialty within the past 24 months, or a minimum of five years as an RN in pediatric nursing and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing within the last 5 years.
  • Exam Prep: The exam is a three-hour, computer-based exam with 175 multiple-choice questions. Topics covered include assessment, health promotion, management, and clinical problems. The PNCB has prep resources online.

Pediatric Nursing Certification (PED-BC)

  • What it Is: Certification for registered nurses who want to demonstrate entry-level clinical knowledge and skills in pediatrics. It’s offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
  • Who it’s For: Nurses with experience in pediatric nursing who are ready to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in the specialty.
  • Requirements: Candidates must have practiced the equivalent of two years full time as a registered nurse with a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in pediatrics within the last three years and have completed 30 hours of continuing education in pediatric nursing within the last three years.
  • Exam Prep: The exam is a three-hour, computer-based test with 150 questions that cover assessment and diagnosis, planning and implementation, and evaluation. Prep resources are available online.

Critical Care Registered Nurse Pediatric (CCRN)

  • What it Is: The CCRN (Pediatric) certification is for nurses who work with acutely and critically ill children. It’s offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACCN).
  • Who it’s For: This certification is for pediatric nurses who work in intensive care units, cardiac care units, trauma units, or critical care transport.
  • Requirements: Applicants must have an RN or APRN license and clinical experience that ranges from 1,750-2,000 hours in the past 2-5 years.
  • Exam Prep: The three-hour exam includes 150 questions about clinical judgment, professional caring, and ethical practice. It can be taken on paper or computer. The AACCN offers study aids on its website.

Subspecialty Certifications for Pediatric Nurses

Some pediatric nurses specialize even further out of personal interest or for more job opportunities. Some of the most popular subspecialty certifications include:

  • CPON: Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse
  • CHPPN: Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse
  • CPEN: Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse
  • CPHON: Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse
  • RNC-NIC: Registered Nurse Certification-Neonatal Intensive Care

Pediatric Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $81,220, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS doesn’t break out nursing specialties but earning a bachelor’s degree and a specialty certification may lead to a higher salary.

Take a look at registered nurse salaries by state and by earnings percentile:

Registered Nurses

National data

Median Salary: $81,220

Projected job growth: 5.6%

10th Percentile: $61,250

25th Percentile: $66,680

75th Percentile: $101,100

90th Percentile: $129,400

Projected job growth: 5.6%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $63,090 $48,820 $82,760
Alaska $102,260 $80,950 $127,280
Arizona $82,330 $66,040 $105,520
Arkansas $64,130 $37,630 $83,700
California $132,660 $84,700 $177,670
Colorado $82,430 $66,130 $107,260
Connecticut $95,210 $71,050 $119,600
Delaware $82,230 $64,100 $101,110
District of Columbia $98,970 $66,260 $135,260
Florida $77,710 $61,190 $100,060
Georgia $79,440 $60,400 $118,270
Hawaii $120,100 $76,640 $137,710
Idaho $77,940 $61,530 $100,440
Illinois $78,980 $62,180 $102,080
Indiana $73,290 $55,200 $95,600
Iowa $65,000 $56,330 $83,360
Kansas $66,460 $52,010 $93,120
Kentucky $75,800 $56,120 $98,540
Louisiana $73,180 $57,500 $95,540
Maine $77,340 $61,170 $100,910
Maryland $83,850 $64,680 $106,910
Massachusetts $98,520 $67,480 $154,160
Michigan $79,180 $64,270 $100,920
Minnesota $84,060 $65,500 $107,960
Mississippi $63,330 $49,980 $84,030
Missouri $71,460 $51,440 $94,340
Montana $76,550 $62,930 $98,970
Nebraska $74,990 $58,900 $93,230
Nevada $94,930 $74,200 $130,200
New Hampshire $80,550 $62,790 $104,270
New Jersey $98,090 $76,650 $118,150
New Mexico $81,990 $64,510 $106,300
New York $100,370 $64,840 $132,950
North Carolina $76,430 $59,580 $100,430
North Dakota $69,640 $60,780 $91,150
Ohio $76,810 $61,860 $98,380
Oklahoma $74,520 $53,560 $97,520
Oregon $106,680 $81,470 $131,210
Pennsylvania $78,740 $61,450 $101,450
Rhode Island $85,960 $65,260 $104,790
South Carolina $75,610 $52,620 $93,190
South Dakota $62,920 $51,240 $80,860
Tennessee $65,800 $51,270 $95,490
Texas $79,830 $61,950 $105,270
Utah $77,240 $61,850 $98,000
Vermont $77,230 $60,900 $101,570
Virginia $79,700 $61,970 $104,410
Washington $101,230 $77,460 $131,230
West Virginia $74,160 $47,640 $96,470
Wisconsin $79,750 $65,110 $100,820
Wyoming $77,730 $60,910 $102,010

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurses

California takes all 10 spots for the highest-paying metro areas for nurses. A combination of a high cost of living, a strong nursing union, and a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio have led to high salaries for nurses in the state, according to BLS data.

Metro Area Median Annual Salary
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA $175,350
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $173,510
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $164,960
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $163,070
Santa Rosa, CA $156,250
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA $137,940
Napa, CA $137,260
Redding, CA $135,220
Yuba City, CA $134,930
Modesto, CA $134,250

Metropolitan Areas with the Most Nurses

Nurses are in demand nationwide, but some metro areas and states employ more nurses, partly because of the size of their populations.

Metropolitan Areas Employment
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 182,710
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 111,660
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 94,640
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 70,220
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 69,370

Job Outlook

The number of jobs for RNs is expected to grow by 5.6% through 2032 due to an aging population with more healthcare needs, according to the BLS.

While overall job prospects are good, the BLS says RNs with a BSN degree and certifications may have a better chance of landing sought-after positions.


Expected Job Growth for RNs through 2032

Professional Resources

Joining or following a professional organization can help pediatric nurses learn about trends in their field and stay on top of the latest medical research.

Some resources pediatric nurses may want to consider following include:

  • Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN): SPN has annual conferences that are excellent opportunities to network and learn about the profession. Becoming an SPN member will give you access to free continuing education credits, webinars, and the latest news about the field. You can also follow the group on Facebook.
  • National Association of School Nurses (NASN): Connect with other school nurses through NASN’s annual conferences, online forums, peer-reviewed journals, and continuing education.
  • Twitter: Nurses are very active on Twitter. You can follow @PedNursing for the latest news on pediatric care.
  • Podcasts: There are a lot of pediatric nurse podcasts, including TeamPeds Talks.

sara nguyen

Written and reported by:

Sara Nguyen

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Christian Leon, RN, BSN

Pediatric Nurse