How Do I Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

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Like seeing a smile on a child’s face or reassuring them that they are going to be OK? Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) have skills providing care to infants, children and adolescents. They are knowledgeable about growth and development and may diagnose certain illnesses or even prescribe medication. They can provide care to children who are seriously ill, but also just undertake routine exams, according to the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. According to 2014 information from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), only 8.3 percent of all NPs pursue primary pediatric care. Many more pursue adult or family care, meaning that there could be plenty of opportunities for nurses wanting to consider a pediatric NP career. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of PNP programs available to help nurses pursue needed education and to start on the path toward career development. As an aside, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners can be a great resource for those interested in the field or who are already working within it.

Requirements to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Once a nurse has earned a current registered nurse (RN) license and gained some nursing experience, he or she has completed the essential baseline requirements to apply for a pediatric nurse practitioner program. Most, although not all, graduate-level pediatric nurse practitioner programs, be they MSN or DNP, also require a bachelor’s degree (some allow either nursing or non-nursing). The exceptions are programs that allow an RN to advance from an ADN degree all the way to an MSN degree by completing a rigorous course of study designed to prepare the student for advanced nursing practice as a pediatric NP. These programs are typically called either “RN to MSN bridge” or “ADN to MSN bridge” programs.

Other graduate nursing program admissions requirements can vary depending on the particular school, but it is not uncommon to find the following necessary for seeking admission to a pediatric NP program:

  • Application fees
  • Transcripts
  • GRE scores
  • Personal statement
  • References
  • A resume or CV

Prospective students may also need to answer specific questions, write essays, or go through a personal interview or provide a portfolio. Prerequisite courses may be needed based on the student’s educational background, and, because of this, what might be true for one student may not be true for all. For example, at Vanderbilt University, there are multiple admission paths to the school’s MSN program, including for those who have an associate degree, those who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and those who have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field (and these, by the way, are three relatively common educational pathways). Given that there can be variances in students’ backgrounds, the exact requirements may be different for each.

The pediatric NP programs that students complete may differ a bit in terms of approach or delivery, but the specialized curriculum should be largely the same across programs. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has set up guidelines for graduate-level nursing education. At the master’s level, this includes curriculum comprising a graduate nursing core, an advanced practice nursing core, and specialty curriculum content. This has been established to help prepare students for new demands in healthcare and to think critically and competently. Most programs should also prepare students to seek board certification when they are done. It is generally best to ensure in advance of enrolling that one may sit for the board certification exam upon graduation. Many schools post this type of information on their website.

Additionally, nurses looking to become pediatric nurse practitioners would be well served may be particularly empathetic and patient. This is because PNPs can work with young children who may be anxious about being in a hospital or medical setting and need extra reassurance. Just try telling a young child that he or she may need to have a shot or blood drawn – and you’ll likely see the telltale signs of worry on their face!

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification

In the pediatric nursing field, credentialing is offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in pediatric primary care. 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. To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Hold a current RN license
  • Have graduate level education in an accredited PNP program
  • A minimum of 500 completed supervised clinical hours in their PNP program

Once students have passed this exam, they are eligible to use PPCNP-BC (board certified) credentialing after their name. This credentialing is good for five years, and can be renewed by meeting follow-up requirements and maintaining their nursing license. A fee-based “Test-Taking Strategies” is also available through the ANCC website and can help applicants gain confidence in exam preparation.

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) also offers certification, but in two PNP areas: either primary or acute care. The exams are three hours long and include 175 questions. As of 2015, the costs are $385 and $310. To be eligible for these exams, students need to meet a number of requirements that entail:

  • Having an RN license
  • Having transcripts from an accredited graduate-level program in pediatric care
  • Completing 500 supervised clinical practice hours in a pediatric setting

Students who pass these exams can use either the CNPC-PC or CNPC-AC credentialing after their names. Recertification is necessary every year and, as well, certain activities must be completed within a seven-year cycle. The question may truly be – why certify? And as the PCNB points out, certification is really a way of measuring competency in the field. However, there may be other benefits as well, none of which are guaranteed, but may be possibilities. These include increased pay and enhanced career opportunities, including upward mobility. However, the ability to use board certified credentialing after your name may also be personally satisfying and allow others around you, including colleagues and patients, to know that you have demonstrated your proficiency.

Steps to Becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

There are several options that individuals can take to enter the PNP field, but most often this decision is based on the education they already have, unless they choose a program that allows them to complete two degrees at once. Nurses who do not have any graduate-level education may want to start at the master’s degree level or even consider a program that combines both an MSN and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, although this certainly will be longer and require a greater time commitment. No matter what a student chooses, they should find advanced health assessment, advanced physiology/pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology as part of their program since these are new standards required in advanced nursing education. That said, some of the paths that RNs could pursue to answer the question of how to become a pediatric nurse practitioner include:

  • 1. MSN Degree – A bachelor’s degree in nursing is commonly needed to enter a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program, although some schools may offer a bridge program such as the RN-to-MSN (where students work on both their BSN and MSN) or even grant students with a non-nursing background admission (as long as they complete the necessary prerequisites and in most cases possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree). Most often, though, that bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree is needed and a sign that students already have the requisite nursing background and knowledge. Seton Hall University is one school with a BSN to MSN program helping to prepare students for a pediatric NP career. Its PNP program is 43 credits in all and can be completed in four semesters. Its website notes that applicants should already have their BSN, but if they already have their MSN they can turn to the post-master’s certificate to work on their PNP education.
  • 2. 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, according to Vanderbilt University. In fact, Vanderbilt offers a number of post-master’s certificate options, including PNP in acute care and PNP in primary care. Students interested in continuing on in their education can use the post-master’s certificate toward the DNP program. Seton Hall University also offers a wide variety of post-master’s certificates.
  • 3. 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. The University of Washington is one school that offers a PNP track through a DNP program. In fact, this program is the only one within five states to offer this PNP option. The program is offered as a three-year hybrid model, requiring students to be on campus one day every other week during the first year and one day every week during the second and third years. The University of Florida has a track that allows students to complete both their MSN and DNP as one program. 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. Accreditation can be important for several reasons: assuring the student their program is rigorous and career-applicable; helping students to seek board certification; and typically enabling the student to pursue further education, such as a DNP. The largest and most reputable accrediting agencies in the advanced nursing space are:
    • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN)
    • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)