What are Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioners?
Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) are registered nurses who have completed a graduate, post-graduate, or doctoral degree with a specialty in pediatrics. This specialized training allows PNPs to treat, diagnose, and prescribe medication for patients from birth to young adult. While rules and regulations differ from state to state, pediatric nurse practitioners can either practice healthcare independently or alongside other pediatric healthcare providers. Many PNPs work in hospitals or physician’s offices, and can even be considered a patient’s primary care provider. Like other nurse practitioners, PNPs have unique training to provide their patients with a more holistic, evidence-based care, offering compassion, support, and education alongside more immediate diagnoses or treatment plans.
How to Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
There are many educational pathways toward becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. Like other nurse practitioner specialties, choosing to be a PNP requires either a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), but with a special emphasis on pediatrics. Choosing the right program depends on both the specialty (in this case, pediatrics) and whether or not you wish to focus on a subspecialty, such as cardiology, dermatology, infectious disease, etc. Prior to choosing a program, it is also important to note if you wish to study primary care or acute care. Some schools and degree programs offer both options simultaneously, while others focus on one or the other. For nurses who wish to pursue research, rather than patient care, a Doctorate of Nursing Practice is recommended, which will allow you to both provide care for patients and pursue other career goals such as research or education.
Primary Care PNP (PNPPC)
Programs that focus on primary care for pediatric nursing allow you, as a PNP, to in turn become the primary care provider for your patients. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) indicates that 87.1% of NPs are certified in an area of primary care, and 72.6% of all NPs deliver primary care. Primary care PNPs focus on managing diseases and maintaining health, while also providing education on health and wellness. Depending on the state in which you live and practice, PNPs can either have an independent practice or practice alongside other pediatric healthcare providers, such as pediatric physicians. Regardless, the role of a primary care PNP is the same:
- Diagnose chronic illness
- Conduct routine screenings and well-child exams
- Diagnose and treat common illnesses
- Instruct and educate patients and family members on health and wellness practices
- Prescribe medications
- Perform and interpret diagnostic tests
Much like other nurse practitioner programs and specialties, the coursework for becoming a PNP includes a combination of clinical practicums and traditional classroom training. Most programs will require advanced study of health assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. PNP specialties will then also focus on pediatric-specific courses, such as:
- Primary Health Care of Children
- Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Reasoning
- Special Healthcare Needs of Children
- Behavior Development from Birth to Adolescence
Once you have completed your MSN or DNP with a focus in pediatrics, the final step to practicing as a pediatric nurse practitioner is to become nationally certified. While a small percentage of nurse practitioners don’t pursue national certification, many state boards require certification in order to be licensed as a nurse practitioner. Consult your state board requirements before pursuing certification to ensure you are sitting for the correct certification exams.
National certification can be received either through the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. Both certification programs have similar requirements, including the completion of an accredited pediatric nurse practitioner program, at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical training, a current RN license, and completion of specific coursework. Depending on your program, you can either sit for certification in primary care, acute care, or both. Understanding your focus, the program you chose to attend, and your state requirements are all important when choosing your national certification.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Career Benefits
Why become a primary care pediatric nurse practitioner? As someone who is interested in, or already practicing nursing, the step to pursuing credentials as a PNP can be a natural choice. Like other registered nurses and nurse practitioners, PNPs are often compassionate, organized, and great problem solvers. Nursing is a unique medical practice that often involves more one-on-one contact with patients and their families than other medical professionals might provide. Because of this, skills in interpersonal relationships, detail, and communication are all important to providing patients with excellent nursing care. If you enjoy spending time observing and understanding your patients from a holistic perspective, then nursing may be the career choice for you. As a primary care pediatric nurse practitioner, you would spend your time treating anyone from ages 21 and below, therefore focusing your patient care on children, while also spending time speaking with and educating their families.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pediatric nurse practitioners are in increasing demand and will continue to be for the next several years. Job growth for nurse practitioners, in general, is projected to increase by 36 percent between 2016 and 2026. This projected increase is said to be due to an increased emphasis on preventive care, something that nurse practitioners offer above other healthcare providers. Because of their ability to treat patients as a primary care provider, PNPs are highly sought after as both a support to and in place of primary care physicians. According to the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), many parents choose a PNP as their child’s primary care provider because they know they will receive thorough healthcare support that covers both the immediate and long-term health of their child.
As of 2018, the median annual wage for nurse practitioners (all NPs, not solely PNPs) was $107,030. This salary estimate can change according to specialty and where, as a pediatric nurse practitioner, you choose to practice. Salary estimates range from state to state, but also vary based on setting—the facility at which you choose to practice. Salaries tend to be higher at hospitals, outpatient care centers, and private healthcare offices. While salary may not be the most significant factor in your decision to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner, it is important to note the varying median salaries and employment opportunities that exist in different regions, cities, and settings.
Ultimately, choosing a career as PNP can be a great choice for those seeking a long-term and fulfilling career treating children and young adults and providing primary care for a large part of the population. Pediatric nurse practitioners have many opportunities to practice in hospitals, private facilities, and schools throughout the country. PNPs with higher degrees such as DNPs also have opportunities to teach other nurses and pursue research opportunities in their specialty or subspecialty.
Regardless of your goals and passions, choosing to become a pediatric nurse practitioner can open a world of opportunity for you today and in the future.