How to Become a Pediatric Nurse

Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN
Updated April 19, 2024
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Find out if becoming a pediatric nurse is right for you when you learn the education, license, certification, and experience requirements.
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Pediatric nurse helping a kid dressed as a superheroCredit: Ridofranz / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A career as a pediatric nurse often comes with lots of giggles, excitement, and heartbreak. When you become a peds nurse, your career will expand as you take on the challenges of caring for acute or critically ill children in your community.

Discover what it takes to become a pediatric nurse. Learn which skills, education, and nursing qualities you need to be successful in the role.

How Long to Become

2-4 years

Degree Required


What is a Pediatric Nurse?

A pediatric nurse cares for babies and kids up to age 18. Many pediatric primary care providers treat pediatric patients until they’re 21. Peds nurses are skilled at customizing their approach to care based on a child’s developmental needs.

They can work anywhere a kid gets care, such as:

  • Pediatrician’s offices
  • Specialty clinics
  • Pediatric urgent care or after-hours clinics
  • Adult hospitals with pediatric wards
  • Freestanding children’s hospitals

Pediatric nurses’ responsibilities vary by setting. For example, a nurse in a pediatric neurology clinic might be responsible for helping a child prepare for brain surgery. This can involve collecting blood work, getting vital signs, and providing patient and family education before surgery.

A pediatric registered nurse working in a children’s hospital might care for the same child after brain surgery. In this setting, their responsibilities are more focused on ensuring a child is stable after the procedure. Their nursing tasks might include:

  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Assessing for neuro changes
  • Providing adequate pain management
  • Managing drains

No matter which setting a pediatric nurse chooses, the role requires taking a patient-and-family-centered approach to care. Peds nurses are responsible for including the child’s parents in clinical decisions. This often means involving parents in interdisciplinary rounds and providing individualized teaching.

Steps to Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

To become a pediatric nurse, you need to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive RN licensure.

Then, you must gain experience in pediatric nursing. You can also consider becoming a certified pediatric nurse.

  1. 1

    Earn an ADN or a BSN degree from an accredited program.

    You must earn at least a two-year associate degree in nursing to become a pediatric nurse. Some employers may prefer you graduate from a four-year bachelor of science in nursing program. BSN programs provide more well-rounded education about how nursing practice fits into the larger healthcare space. BSN degrees allow you more career options in the future.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure.

    Nursing graduates take the NCLEX for RNs about a month after graduation. Employers usually require a passing score before they hire you, but some allow you to take it by a certain date after hire. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing uses the NCLEX-RN to test your skills and competency in nursing.

  3. 3

    Gain experience in pediatric nursing.

    As a newly licensed nurse, you can apply for entry-level pediatric nursing positions or pediatric nurse residency positions. Both types of experience count toward the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board’s (PNCB) Certified Pediatric Nurse Exam.

  4. 4

    Consider becoming a certified pediatric nurse.

    You can apply for your pediatric nurse certification from either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the PNCB. Certification shows employers that you have more expertise in pediatric nursing than other nurses with only their RN license. You must have at least two years of nursing experience and an unrestricted license before you apply to take the certification exam.

Pediatric Nurse Education

You need at least an ADN degree to take the NCLEX-RN and get your RN license. However, a BSN degree may open up more opportunities for leadership positions, continuing education, promotions, and higher salaries.

ADN Degree

You might start your journey to becoming a pediatric nurse with an associate degree in nursing (ADN). With this degree, you can work in an outpatient setting, such as a pediatrician’s office or specialty clinic.

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    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; all applicable transcripts including high school, college, and GED certificate; physical exam; drug screening; cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification

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    Program Curriculum

    Nursing across the lifespan; management of patient care; basic nursing skills; anatomy and physiology

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    Time to CompleteTwo years

    Skills LearnedPatient safety; critical thinking; communication; evidence-based practice; patient-centered care

BSN Degree

Most hospitals prefer pediatric nurses to have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). With this degree, you can work in specialty units within a children’s hospital. Some examples include pediatric hematology-oncology (heme-onc) and the cardiac transitional care unit (CTCU).

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    Admission Requirements

    An overall GPA of at least 3.0; a GPA of 2.75 for science courses; at least 45 completed credit hours from an accredited university; at least a C- in all prerequisite courses, such as statistics, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and psychology

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    Program Curriculum

    Pediatric nursing; maternal health; nursing leadership and management; medical-surgical nursing; community and public health; pharmacology; healthcare policy; evidence-based practice

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    Time to CompleteFour years

    Skills LearnedBehavioral health; ethics; cultural competence; professionalism; communication; critical thinking; patient-centered care; patient safety; patient and family education; nurse leadership

Pediatric Nurse Licensure and Certification

To become a pediatric nurse, you must first become licensed in the state where you plan to practice. After completing your nursing education, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed registered nurse.

To maintain RN licensure, you’ll renew your nursing license every two years. The requirements vary by state, but license renewals generally require a combination of working hours and continuing education.

After you have your RN license, you can apply for pediatric nursing jobs in the area you’re interested in. Depending on the nursing specialty you chose, you may need to get certifications before working on a unit. Some examples of mandatory certifications for peds nurses are:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS). All registered nurses must be CPR-certified to work in a hospital or other healthcare facility.
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). Pediatric nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) or transitional care unit need advanced certification to respond to pediatric emergencies.
  • Chemo certification. A pediatric heme-onc unit nurse needs chemo certification to administer chemotherapy. You need at least two years of practice as an oncology nurse to qualify for this certification.

Pediatric nurses can get certified in their specialty area after working for a few years. Certifications can supplement your nursing practice but aren’t typically mandatory to work in a unit. Examples of optional pediatric nurse certifications include:

  • Certified pediatric nurse (CPN). To take the CPN exam, a pediatric nurse must have a minimum of 1800 working hours in the past two years.
  • Pediatric critical care registered nurse (CCRN). A pediatric critical care nurse may take the pediatric CCRN exam to deepen their knowledge of the conditions they see in the practice setting. To take the CCRN, you need at least two years of experience caring for acute or critically ill pediatric patients.

Working as a Pediatric Nurse

If you’re in nursing school, it’s never too early to start networking for a future career as a pediatric nurse. During your peds clinical rotation, make a point to meet as many nurses — and the nurse manager — on the unit as you can. Doing so can give you an advantage when the unit opens a capstone placement, nurse externship, or new graduate position.

When you become a pediatric nurse, you can work in an inpatient or outpatient setting. You might consider working in a children’s hospital to gain a highly specialized skill set caring for the sickest kids in your region.

A career as a pediatric nurse can be fulfilling but challenging. You’ll work with children and their families at some of their most vulnerable times, which require empathy, patience, and strength. Seeing kids overcome serious illness is often one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

It can be financially rewarding, too — pediatric nurses make an average of $31.38 per hour, according to Payscale data from February 2024. The projected job growth rate for registered nurses is 6% from 2022-2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

The average pediatric nurse salary is $66,450, according to Payscale data from Feb. 2024.. According to ZipRecruiter, the states where pediatric nurses make the most money are Oregon, Alaska, North Dakota, and Massachusetts.

Page last reviewed on March 5, 2024

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