Pediatric nurse practitioners provide care for the youngest members of society, from the time they’re welcomed into the world until they go off to college, and often a few years after. Newborns, infants, children, adolescents, and young adults—they’re all within a pediatric nurse practitioner’s area of expertise.
Whether working independently in nurse practitioner-led practices, or alongside pediatricians and other pediatric specialists, pediatric NPs are strong advocates for a portion of our population that’s often unable to communicate or articulate their pains or disabilities. They are also perceptive clinicians who are able to deftly assess growth and development with a patient disposition and a gentle hand.
Pediatric nurse practitioners may be certified in either acute or primary care, and many choose to specialize in areas like cardiology, orthopedics, dermatology, infectious diseases, and mental health. In any setting, these professionals are valuable members of the interdisciplinary healthcare team who work to improve healthcare delivery and ensure the best patient outcomes.
Understanding the Role of Acute vs. Primary Care Pediatric NPs
Primary care pediatric NPs (PCPNPs) are focused on well child care and the prevention/management of common pediatric illnesses and chronic conditions. Their work puts them in family practice and community health clinics where they address the unique psychological, physical, and physiologic needs of children and focus on health maintenance and promotion, as well as disease assessment and management. PCPNPs provide their pediatric patients with the full range of primary healthcare services that include assessing, screening, evaluating, and diagnosing.
On any given day, you may find PCPNPs performing a well-baby checkup on a newborn…assessing an adolescent for signs of concussion after falling off a bike…overseeing a diabetic child’s wellness plan…prescribing antibiotics for a strep throat infection in a toddler…or counseling a young adult on sexually transmitted diseases.
Much of the work of PCPNPs is focused on patient and family education, and their national certification and state license allow them to order and read diagnostic tests and prescribe medication. These advanced nursing practitioners are valuable additions to private practices, ambulatory and home healthcare settings, community clinics, schools, hospitals, and specialty clinics, and many operate their own practices.
Acute care pediatric nurse practitioners (ACPNP) are the stars of the show in surgery centers, general and children’s hospitals, emergency rooms, neonatal intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units, pediatric oncology units, rehabilitative clinics, specialty clinics, and more and are often found collaborating with interprofessional teams of specialists.
These advanced nursing practitioners focus their efforts on meeting the needs of babies, children, adolescents, and young adults with complex, critical, acute, and chronic conditions. Their expertise lies in managing multi-faceted disorders and conditions through a culturally sensitive, family-focused lens, and their national certification and state licensure allows them to make both independent and collaborative decisions regarding the clinical management of their acutely ill patients.
The Fight for Full Practice Autonomy and Prescriptive Authority: The Rights of Today’s Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
APRNs throughout the nation are continuing the fight to achieve full practice autonomy – a must for a healthcare system that’s been plagued by physician shortages, particularly in rural areas of the country.
The value of pediatric nurse practitioners in today’s healthcare environment cannot be overstated: According to the Committee on Pediatric Workforce, nearly half of all children in the U.S. live in areas without an adequate number of physicians in the clinics where most child health services are provided. The Committee recognizes that pediatric nurse practitioners can provide reliable, cost-efficient care where physician shortages exist.
Fortunately, much ground has been gained, and 28 states and Washington D.C. now allow pediatric nurse practitioners to practice independently. The remaining states require pediatric nurse practitioners and other APRNs to maintain collaborative agreements and practice under some level of physician oversight.
How to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Education and Certification Requirements
To become a pediatric nurse practitioner, you’ll need to earn national certification and a state license to practice. This most often means starting your career with an RN license before later going on to earn an MSN or DNP in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Once you graduate, you’ll need to take and pass one of the following national certification exams:
- Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (PPCNP-BC)
- Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)
- Acute Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC)
While the MSN remains the minimum educational requirement to earn national certification as a pediatric nurse practitioner (acute or primary), many nurses have chosen to earn the DNP and with it a greater degree of respect in the interdisciplinary healthcare community, better professional opportunities, and larger paychecks. And for NPs with an MSN in another population focus, the DNP is the ideal path to becoming certified as a pediatric nurse practitioner.
There are three types of DNP programs that can put you on track to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, depending on the degree you currently hold:
- Post BSN-DNP: Consists of about 73 credits and three years of full-time study
- Post MSN-DNP: Consists of about 36 credits and two years of full-time study (may be designed for APRNs and non-APRNs alike)
- Direct Entry DNP: Consists of between 65-80 credits and four and a half years of full-time study; designed for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another field and includes the MSN, RN licensure, and the DNP.
While most Pediatric Nurse Practitioner DNP programs require students to focus on either the acute care or primary care role, a number of DNP programs now offer dual acute care/primary care DNP programs. Many DNP programs also offer options for specialization in areas like oncology, cardiology, and endocrinology.
DNP Pediatric Nurse Practitioner programs tend to be small and highly selective, so expect to have at least a year of pediatric nursing experience under your belt when applying to one of these programs.
The DNP includes three, major components:
- Coursework and clinical experiences covering the AACN’s 8 DNP Essentials
- Coursework and clinical experiences that prepare you for certification as a primary or acute care pediatric nurse practitioner.
- A final DNP project – a scholarly project focused on an issue relating to the pediatric nurse practitioner role
Specialty courses in a DNP-ACPNP program often include:
- Concepts and Interventions for Health Problems Across the Lifespan
- Nursing Therapeutics for Acute/Critical Illnesses in Children
- Complex/Chronic Pediatric Health Conditions
- Advanced Pediatric Acute Care Topics and Procedures
Specialty courses in a DNP-PCPNP program often include:
- Pediatric Case Studies
- Management of Common Newborn Conditions
- Common Adolescent Health Problems
- Pediatric Diagnostic Health Assessment
Salary Expectations for Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
A 2019 Medscape Compensation Report found that nurse practitioners earned an annual average salary of $108,000 in 2018. The average annual salary for all APRNs during this time was $116,000, although those with a DNP earned more, at $122,000.
A 2019 annual NP survey by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners found that pediatric nurse practitioners earned $115,000.