Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) work with patients from infancy through adolescence. In addition to providing care, they must be able to communicate with young patients who may not yet be adept at expressing their needs, as well as their families. They must be exceptionally compassionate, providing emotional support and psychologically preparing children for procedures, from simple vaccines to complicated surgeries. But exactly what does a pediatric nurse practitioner do on a day-to-day basis? This article provides an overview of the profession’s daily duties, educational requirements, and job outlook.
What Does a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Do?
PNPs usually work in both general and children’s hospitals or in healthcare facilities targeting younger populations, such as pediatric oncology clinics. Their day-to-day work also involves interacting with other healthcare providers, from doctors to laboratory technicians. PNPs often act as liaisons between their patients and these professionals.
A PNP’s responsibilities include:
- Care. Children’s bodies are unique. Their physical presentation of symptoms can differ from that of adults, and because their bodies are smaller, they react differently to medications. PNPs must have pediatric-specific medical knowledge that enables them to recognize signs of disease and diagnose an illness accordingly, and then to administer the correct treatment. Their duties include conducting physical exams, recording health histories, ordering and interpreting laboratory and diagnostic tests, and establishing and implementing treatment plans. The degree of independence with which PNPs can prescribe medication depends on the extent of their training and certification, as well as the state in which they work.
- Education. Another aspect that makes children unique patients is that they often can’t speak for themselves — and may not even be talking yet. As minors, they’re not legally entitled to make decisions about their own care; their parents or guardians have that right. A PNP must therefore be able to communicate with both children and their parents. Frequently this communication may have an educational focus as PNPs can teach parents about preventive care to keep their children healthy. If a child’s parents are balking at the thought of vaccination, for instance, a PNP might try to educate them on the importance of immunization.
- Advocacy. PNPs who want to provide the best standard of care for their young patients may find themselves having to advocate for them. If an autistic child has yet to be diagnosed with the condition, for instance, a PNP might pick up on symptoms and recommend that the child be tested. The PNP might also advocate for the child to receive therapeutic measures to help manage everyday stressors. PNPs also have the duty to evaluate their patients for signs of abuse. For instance, if an infant appears malnourished, the infant may not be getting the sustenance needed at home.
Steps to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
The first step to become a PNP is to earn a bachelor’s or an associate degree. Next, an aspiring PNP must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN); then they can apply for a state license as a registered nurse (RN). Once licensed, RNs can enroll in a master’s in nursing program with a specialty in pediatrics, which involves coursework in anatomy, pharmacology, and physiology, along with hands-on clinical experience. Graduates can then seek certification as PNPs.
For those interested in an advanced nursing degree, Maryville University offers the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner concentration as part of the online Master of Science in Nursing program. Students gain the knowledge they need to complete child-friendly developmental and health screenings, identify unhealthy lifestyle habits, and pinpoint hurdles to children’s mental and physical development. Students also master skills needed to interpret diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans, perform in-office primary care procedures (including writing prescriptions), and refer chronic or acute cases to specialists.
Some examples of required coursework include:
- Health Promotion of the Pediatric Population. In this course, students learn how to promote health and prevent illness among children. They’re also taught how to incorporate individual cultural, ethnic, and spiritual preferences when working with pediatric patients and their families.
- Pediatric Assessment and Diagnosis. In this course, students learn how to manage pediatric patients in primary care settings. Students find out how to perform a patient history, conduct a physical exam, use diagnostic tools, and interpret patient data to make diagnoses. Students also learn about common pediatric ailments.
- Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics. In this course, students learn how drugs interact differently with young patients’ bodies and which medications can safely be prescribed concurrently. This is important to understand since nurses may have to prescribe treatment regimens including medication for minors.
Skills, Salary, and Job Outlook for Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
Pediatric nursing is unique in the added demands it places on professionals in terms of advanced interpersonal, critical thinking, and communication skills. These professionals must be able to interact with young children as well as their parents. A great deal of compassion is required when working with sick children and their loved ones. The job can be emotionally taxing, especially for those who choose to work in fields such as pediatric oncology, where young patients combat cancer.
Though the role of a PNP can be challenging, it’s also rewarding. The job outlook for nurse practitioners across all fields is excellent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS anticipates growth to be much faster than average: 28% from 2018 to 2028. The predicted physician shortage will contribute to this expansion as more nurse practitioners will be needed to fill the primary care gap. The BLS further reports that the median annual pay of nurse practitioners was $107,030 in 2018.
The Maryville University Online Master of Science in Nursing
After learning the answers to the question, “What does a pediatric nurse practitioner do?” you may be interested in pursuing it as a career. If so, consider Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program. The coursework is 100% online, and students can complete clinicals locally. The degree can set graduates on the path to enter this exciting specialty field, giving them the tools they need to deliver quality healthcare to young people in need.