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How to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

A pediatric nurse is a registered nurse or nurse practitioner that specializes in the care of children right from when they were born till they become young adults. These nurses focus on primary care, preventive health, growth and development, along with managing acute and chronic illnesses.

A pediatric nurse practitioner on his or her own is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRNs) who has completed graduate training and can provide primary care to children under the supervision of a physician.

Pediatric nurse practitioners are advanced-practice registered nurses who have completed a master’s program in nursing (MSN) or doctoral degree program (DNP). A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) has skills that enable them provide care to infants, children and adolescents.

They are knowledgeable about growth and development and may diagnose certain illnesses or even prescribe medication. They can equally provide care to children that are seriously ill.

This career position is both physically and emotionally demanding, and requires long hours of standing. If you become a pediatric nurse practitioner, your schedule will vary greatly, but the opportunity to work standard business hours is usually available to you.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, only 8.3 percent of nurse practitioners specialize in pediatrics. This leaves a void that is begging to be filled by the next generation of nursing practitioner graduates.

This situation arose because more nurses pursue adult or family care, meaning that there is plenty of opportunities for nurses wanting to consider a pediatric nurse practitioner career. On the up side, there are a wide variety of PNP programs available to help nurses pursue the needed education and to start on the path toward career development.

Because you will be dealing with babies or children, their parents and other health practitioners, good communication skills are essential for a pediatric nurse practitioner. Your job will often entail addressing the concerns of parents and children; answering questions from both parents and children; advising parents on all sorts of problems their children may be experiencing; and instructing parents and children on how to take medications.

How to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  1. Associate’s Degree Program

An associate degree program is a solid stepping stone you can use to enter the nursing field. This is generally a two year program that launches you into the basics of the profession. Upon completion of the coursework, you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and apply for a registered nurse (RN) license.

This can open doors to entry-level positions in hospitals or inpatient facilities and provide you with valuable experience. It can also be used as a building block if you decide to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Coursework usually covers basic science and math, plus English classes to make for a well-rounded education.

You can choose to bypass this aspect and step fully into the Bachelor’s degree programme.

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) are first and foremost nurses, which means that an aspiring pediatric nurse practitioner must earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Coursework includes basic nursing principles, biology, nutrition, chemistry, anatomy, and psychology. Rotations through various clinical settings and departments, including pediatrics, are required.

Nurses that hold an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) will need to obtain a BSN. There are many RN to BSN programs available. Many healthcare organizations also assist employees in advancing degrees and assisting in tuition reimbursement, the cost of books, and granting time off for nurses.

Nursing programs can also allow time for externship in the specialty of choice, so nursing students interested in the field of pediatrics can choose that area to gain added clinical skills before joining the workforce. This is to help the nurse build clinical and critical thinking skills related to the field of pediatrics, which will better prepare them for advanced-practice nursing.

Each state uses the NCLEX exam to meet licensing requirements, but each state varies, so be sure to check with your state’s board of nursing.

There are five types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing and they include;

BSN: 4-year degree and the prerequisite for applying to graduate nursing school. The first two years cover core requirements and the latter two years focus primarily on nursing. This degree is a good start for aspiring nurse practitioners who will eventually decide on a specialty.

LPN-to-BSN: Within four semesters, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) can earn a BSN.

RN-to-BSN: This unique path gives registered nurses with an associate degree or diploma the chance to further their career while working.

Second-degree BSN: This is intended for someone who already has a 4-year degree in another field and is interested in changing careers. This program can often be completed in two years or less because credit is given for the liberal arts education from the original degree.

Accelerated Degree BSN: As the name implies, students can finish their degree in a shorter period of time (usually 12 to 20 months).

  1. Obtain RN Licensure

When you have graduated as a nurse, you have to obtain your license by sitting for and passing the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). You don’t only need this license to become a pediatric nurse, you also need it to register for your master’s degree program as nurse practitioner master’s degree programs require applicants to hold valid RN licenses.

Pediatric nurse practitioner programs often require applicants to have at least 1 year of professional nursing experience in pediatrics. Attaining work experience and making professional contacts are also important because letters of recommendation from employers factor into the admissions process.

Getting practical experience in pediatrics can also help nurses decide if they would like to specialize in an area of pediatric nursing, like acute care or oncology.

  1. Earn a Master’s Degree

After you get your license, the individual must complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program that offers a specialization in pediatric care. More specific concentrations may be available in pediatric acute care, pediatric chronic care, pediatric oncology, or pediatric critical care.

A master’s degree program allows you to complete a nurse-supervised clinical practicum, during which you learn how to work specifically with children in a pediatric setting. The courses train you in health promotion, acute care, pediatric diseases, pediatric oncology, child psychology and child development.

A Master of Science in Nursing degree can be earned in 1 to 2 years. Some schools provide combined BSN-MSN programs, which usually take 3 to 4 years to complete. There are also programs for students who already have advanced practice nursing master’s degrees and want to change their specialization to pediatrics; this can take one year to finish.

Post-Master’s Certificate – The post-master’s certificate can be a good option for nurses who already have a master’s degree in a nursing field, but want to specialize in pediatric nursing. It can help build up the clinical and management skills of those looking for a role change or role expansion.

BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP – Some students may want to complete their training with a doctoral level program. This may be particularly true if they already have a master’s degree, but in another field of nursing. This will take about three years of full-time study and includes an advanced nursing project and a residency in advanced nursing.

The dual-degree program can also be completed on a part-time basis. Students of any DNP program should also be eligible to sit for national certification just as graduates of an MSN program or post-master’s certificate would. Students should check to make sure that their program is appropriately accredited.

  1. Earn Certification and Licensure

All pediatric nurse practitioners must become certified in the specialty in order to practice. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) offers the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care (CPNP-PC) designation, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PPCNP-BC) credential.

Candidates for both certifications must have pediatric nurse practitioner graduate degrees, be licensed RNs, and pass the corresponding certification exams. The PNCB also offers specialty certifications, such as the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care (CPNP-AC) and Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS) credentials.

Certification in pediatrics can be completed concurrently within the MSN/DNP program or obtained via independent study via the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or other learning institutes. The ANCC offers a Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PPCNP-BC) credential.

To be qualified for this certification, the candidate must have an active RN license. He or she must also hold an MSN/DNP from an accredited pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program, to include a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours.

He or she must have completed courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology with content in health promotion, differential diagnosis, and disease management (including prescribing pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatments). Certification is by exam and is valid for five years.

The Certification can be applied for online through the ANCC website. The applicant can equally download the application and mail it in along with proof of standing. Transcripts will need to be mailed to the credentialing company for verification. Nurses will get an authorization to test and have 90 days to sit for the computerized exam at a designated test site.

During the exam, students have four hours to answer 200 questions, 175 of which are scored and 25 of which act as pretest questions.

As of 2015, the cost of this exam was as low as $275 for members of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and $395 for non-members. Once students have passed this exam, they are eligible to use PPCNP-BC (board certified) credentialing after their name.

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) also offers certification. Eligibility is similar to the ANCC’s. Recertification is annual, and applicants will need to complete four pediatric update education courses and 15 hours of pediatric pharmacology within a 7-year period as part of the recertification process. The exams are three hours long and include 175 questions. As of 2015, the costs are $385 and $310.

  1. Practitioner Work

After earning nurse practitioner certification and licensure, nurse practitioners can seek positions within pediatric departments of hospitals, community health organizations, and children’s clinics. Most employers require a minimum of 2 years of experience working in pediatrics and may require multiple certifications.

Duration Required to Qualify as a Nurse Practitioner

Depending upon your level of dedication, a nursing degree can take the following time to complete:

  • Associate’s degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunities, usually take two years
  • A bachelor’s degree program takes four years
  • Accelerated BSN programs range from 12 to 20 months
  • Second-degree BSN generally takes two years or less
  • Master’s degree programs generally require two years

Attending part-time is usually an option at most schools, but bear in mind it will take longer to complete.


Both the RN license and specialty certifications need to be maintained in order to continue practicing as a pediatric nurse practitioner. License renewal varies by state, but taking continuing education courses is a typical requirement. The CPNP-PC credential is valid for 7 years, but holders must recertify every year. Nurses with the PPCNP-BC credential must renew their certification every 5 years.

A pediatric nurse practitioner program can be completed in two years with full-time study and three years on a part-time basis. A shorter program length is possible for students who already have a master’s degree. Individual students’ availability and extenuating life circumstances can also affect how long the program takes.