What to Know About Working as a Pediatric Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated May 5, 2022
    Considering a career as a pediatric nurse or pediatric nurse practitioner? Learn what it's like from active pediatric nurses.
    A young boy sitting in a medical office having his heartbeat checked by a female pediatric nurse with her stethoscope.

    Working as a pediatric nurse means you can change a child’s entire life by providing care for them and by educating the family. Learn about the rewards and challenges of this demanding but fulfilling career from active pediatric nurse practitioners (NPs).

    Why Choose a Career in Pediatric Nursing

    Choosing pediatric nursing as a career is often a personal decision. Lisa Rinsdale, a board-certified pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, discovered pediatric nursing was her calling when she became a mother. She wanted to provide families with the same care that she and her family had received.

    “I gained a great deal of knowledge at their wellness visits, and I could see myself in that role,” says Rinsdale, DNP, PPCNP-BC.

    Melanie Wilhelm, a board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner, was inspired by her own daughter’s experience with severe asthma. This experience motivated her to help families raise happy, healthy children. Wilhelm also finds a special joy in treating children specifically.

    “It is truly a gift to work with children,” says Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP. “Their innocence and candor are refreshing.”

    What’s It Like for Pediatric Nurses Working With Children?

    Communicating with children is similar to communicating with adults, Rinsdale notes, but a different approach is necessary. With most adults it is easy to give them information and calm their fears. With children, you have to gain their trust.

    “Working with children can be fun, but it can also be a team effort since you are essentially treating a family,” Rinsdale explains. “Understanding, caring, and patience are probably the most important traits in being a pediatric healthcare provider. Children can be scared of the unknown or experiencing pain.”

    Wilhelm also emphasizes the importance of building trust with the entire family. “You must be patient, gentle, and kind to work in the field of pediatrics,” Wilhelm adds. “It is important to be honest and trustworthy to build relationships with families as you provide healthcare for their children.”

    Challenges of Pediatric Nursing

    It can be frustrating for a pediatric nurse to communicate with children, especially with very young children who can’t understand what is happening. Children can struggle to describe their symptoms or understand that an uncomfortable treatment is going to help them.

    “One challenging aspect of working as a pediatric NP is working with families that have a lot of social needs, whether that be due to poverty, a lack of education, or not receiving mental health intervention. It can be challenging to provide care that is equal when the family has access to fewer resources,” Rinsdale notes.

    Also, as legally mandated reporters, pediatric nurses must report potential child abuse, which can take a tremendous emotional toll.

    Rewards of Pediatric Nursing

    A pediatric nurse also provides health education that will benefit a child throughout their life. “It is most rewarding to watch a child that you have cared for since infancy grow up and become an amazing adult,” Wilhelm says.

    Rinsdale shares what it is like as a pediatric nurse to see her patients recover. “Sick children tend to bounce back very quickly with evidence-based care,” she says. “Seeing improvement and a smile from a child that could not smile a couple of days ago due to acute illness is my best reward.”

    Pediatric Nurses and Nurse-Parent Relationships

    A pediatric nurse practitioner or pediatric nurse needs to build trust with parents/guardians and the child.

    “Caring for children over their lifespan from birth to 21 years old allows you to develop true relationships with families,” Wilhelm says. “It is a great honor to be trusted within these relationships. The trust you build goes a long way in providing exceptional healthcare for families.”

    Rinsdale stresses the importance of being a good listener and communicator. “I view myself as a team member and teacher. I am there to listen to the parents who know their child best and then intersect that information with the knowledge that I have of pediatrics.”

    Advice for Future Pediatric Nurses

    If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in pediatrics, Rinsdale and Wilhelm offer some advice:

    • Gain some experience. Rinsdale suggests to “evaluate if you love working with children and…explore if you have the skills to work with families.” Wilhelm recommends working in pediatrics before considering a pediatric NP career. “The clinical experience will be invaluable.”
    • Be open to new ideas. Rinsdale says innovation is key: “Families come in all shapes and sizes, so a standard solution might not fit a particular situation. I have learned to be creative and flexible.”
    • Be patient with children and their parents. Wilhelm points out to “[n]ever assume a parent understands what you mean. You, as a healthcare provider, may feel that something is understood, but you must take the time to review it with a parent who may not have the same experience or knowledge base as you…take the time to completely answer every question and explain each direction.”
    • Research. If you are considering a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner, Wilhelm says to “read everything you can get your hands on in the field of pediatrics.”

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Lisa Rinsdale, DNP, PPCNP-BC, CNE, JD

    Lisa Rinsdale, DNP, PPCNP-BC, CNE, JD

    Lisa Rinsdale, DNP, PPCNP-BC, CNE, JD, is a faculty member in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program and a board-certified pediatric primary care nurse practitioner. Her nursing interests include pediatrics, genetics, evidence-based practice, and health policy.

    Portrait of Melanie Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

    Melanie Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

    Melanie Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a faculty member in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program and has 35 years of experience in pediatric nursing. She is board certified as a pediatric nurse practitioner through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. Wilhelm is licensed in both Virginia and Minnesota as a registered nurse and a certified pediatric nurse practitioner.

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