Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs): What are they and what do they do?

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) have been serving patients and communities across the country for more than 40 years. According to the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), they reach million of patients annually and spend one-on-one time with patients, treating common illnesses and listening to descriptions of symptoms, just as pediatric physicians might do. In fact, the NAPNAP reports that 51 percent of its members spend anywhere from 16 to 20 minutes with a patient during a typical appointment. Furthermore, just 8.3 percent of all NPs choose a specialty focus in pediatrics (primary care), according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), meaning that there could be many opportunities available for nurses interested this advanced practice field.

What Does a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

According to Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing, pediatric nurse practitioners provide compassionate and high quality care to children of all ages, ranging from birth up to the age of 21.

They work in a variety of settings, including health care clinics and physician offices, and help prevent disease, promote health, and educate family members on plans of care. Specific services they may provide, include:

  • Childhood immunizations
  • Developmental screenings
  • Medication prescriptions in some states, depending upon law
  • School physicals
  • Treatment of common illnesses
  • Well-child exams

They work hand-in-hand with pediatricians and other healthcare providers. In fact, as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ College of Nursing notes, the PNP essentially “fills” the role that falls between that of a nurse and the pediatrician and, in a pediatrician’s office, can see and treat children by themselves, without supervision, or, when warranted, turn to a pediatrician for further assistance. PNPs also might conduct home visits, and because of their graduate-level education, be involved in research or take on leadership roles to affect public policy.

Skills and Personality Traits of Successful Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

Like other NPs, nurses working in pediatrics should be compassionate, detail oriented, and resourceful. These qualities and others, like having strong communication and critical-thinking skills, are listed as important by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all nurse practitioners. What may be even more important for a PNP is the ability to develop a rapport with children. This may be the reason that Scrubs Magazine notes that it’s always easy to pick out a pediatrics nurse in the crowd: They are ones most likely to have “Elmo strapped to their stethoscope” or “SpongeBob characters covering their scrubs.” In fact, PNPs may be just the type of people to have a range of scrubs stashed away in their closet, varying from princess characters to cute, little animals. Pediatric nurses may also be skilled in the “art of distraction,” as Scrubs Magazine notes. It is not unimaginable to think that they can easily chat up a kid about the latest Pixar movie or provide a wide range of coloring pages, from trucks to fairies and dinosaurs, to keep their patients occupied or to ease their minds.

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Education & Experience Requirements for a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

To become a pediatric nurse practitioner, students need to complete a master’s of science degree in nursing (MSN). If they already have an MSN, they may simply be able to complete a post-master’s certificate in some cases, or decide to pursue a DPN with a PNP specialty. All MSN specialty areas now typically require students to complete core instruction in Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pharmacology, and Advanced Pathophysiology. PNP students might take classes after these, such as:

  • Care of Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Infant, Child and Adolescent Health: Wellness
  • Newborn through Adolescence Primary Care
  • Special Healthcare Needs of Children in the School Setting

Student also gain real-life skills through clinical work, practicums and/or a preceptorship. In fact, a total of 600 clinical hours are necessary to seek board certification if they choose this route. These MSN programs are typically available on a full-time basis, but some schools may also offer part-time learning to accommodate students seeking more flexible options.

When students have completed their pediatric NP program, they may be eligible to sit for pediatric primary care board certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). PNPs can also seek certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCP). The two types of PNCP certification available include pediatric acute care and pediatric primary care. Finally, PNPs may want to join the NAPNAP. Annual membership fees are charged, but members gain access to online continuing education courses, receive discounts on the annual conference registration and obtain a free subscription to the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

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