7 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

Becoming a Pediatric Nurse

When you picture yourself working as a future nurse, you have no doubt that you want to be caring for children. You get to be around little ones, make them feel comfortable, tend to their wounds and make those big, scary medical procedures seem not so scary. While the profession appeals to you, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot more involved in becoming and being a pediatric nurse than first meets the eye.

It’s important you know what you’re getting into before you dive into nursing school, so we connected with a handful of medical professionals and compiled information so you can be properly informed. Read this, and tuck these nuggets of wisdom away for when you need to officially make your career path decision.

What you need to know about becoming a pediatric nurse…

1. You have to become an RN first

To become a pediatric nurse, you’ll first need experience as a registered nurse (RN). This involves earning a Nursing degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

After that, it’s important that you work for a few years as an RN—and if you can gain some experience working with younger patients, then all the better. The good news is that nursing work should be plentiful—the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of registered nurses to grow 16 percent by 2024, which is a much stronger projection than the national average for all occupations. While it may seem like a long road to reaching your desired nursing specialty, all that work will pay off in the long run and prepare you for a smooth transition into the career of your dreams.

2. Nurse externship programs can help you get your foot in the door

“Some pediatric hospitals offer programs for experienced adult care nurses,” says Amelia Roberts, BSN, RN. “Other hospitals have a nurse extern program where student nurses work as patient care techs prior to taking the NCLEX. After passing the NCLEX, while a job may not be guaranteed, it could be a way to enter the specialty.”

Nothing is guaranteed in the world of nursing, so it’s important to get experience and take opportunities wherever you can get them. By participating in a nurse externship program, you may find yourself on the fast track to working in your desired specialty.

3. Listening is key

“It helps to learn how to listen,” says Janet Patterson, BSN, RN. “Maybe in the grocery store or at church, you wouldn't give this parent the time of day, but in hospital or clinic, this child is your patient, and that parent is the person you need to negotiate with to get the child the best care—and sent home in the best condition—that you can.”

Once you get comfortable in your role as a pediatric nurse, it could be tempting to tune out what you might think is extraneous chatter. Listening to the concerns of both parent and child will only further assist you in giving the best care possible to your tiny patient.

4. Kids are resilient

If you’ve spent time around kids before, you know that they easily get hurt and they easily bounce back. With the right kind of environment, healing can happen quickly and without a hitch. The way you approach your patients can also do a great deal in encouraging a frightened or wary child.

“Kids tend to be extremely resilient when well supported,” says Roberts. “They are very forgiving and are learning how to process life based on the responses of others. In short, they tend to reflect back positivity extremely well.”

Your patients may be dealing with incredibly difficult illnesses or issues for someone their age. Your attitude can go a long way toward helping them keep their spirits up in a tough time.

5. You’ll be working with families just as much as you will with children  

When working with kids as a pediatric nurse, it’s important to remember that the child’s family is one of your main interactions. It will also benefit you to keep in mind that your experience with your own family isn’t the only family dynamic you’ll encounter.

“It helps to remember that ‘families’ aren't one mom, one dad and some happy kids by default,” says Patterson. You can’t assume the father of a patient will react to what you’re saying the same way your own father would.  Working with young patients, and by default, their families, requires emotional intelligence and an ability to read the room. Patterson suggests studying up on family systems theory to better understand the dynamics of your patients’ families.

6. There will be hard conversations, and you’ll have to take care of yourself too   

Depending on where you work as a pediatric nurse, you may be caring for children with terminal illnesses or other very serious health issues. While you won’t be the one delivering the news initially or working with the family in the long run, learning how to navigate these situations in a positive way can have a great impact on the family. But even if you handle tough situations with families perfectly, seeing the pain families face in tough medical situations can be taxing emotionally. Patterson says working in pediatrics can be jarring, particularly for nurses with children of their own.

“I went into pediatric critical care when my children were 13 and 15 and had lived through and missed most of the pre-adolescent horrors,” says Patterson. “And then the first boy I took care of fell backwards off his skateboard, hit his head on a curb and had major brain damage at age 14.”

Patterson explains that she had to take steps to take care of herself, learn to have these conversations and figure out where she could vent. “Having a good therapist, a good friend, a good pastor and a good journal saved my life, more than once, when the clash between real life and the sorrows of PICU got too painful,” she says.

7. “Norms” of growth and development are averages

Often as a pediatric nurse, you’ll speak with parents who are concerned that their child isn’t within the standard growth and development scale for his or her age. While obviously a child not meeting developmental goals can be concerning, it’s important for nurses to help keep parental concerns in perspective.

“Not everyone gets language, teeth, walking or [other important developmental milestones] at the same age,” says Patterson. “On the other hand, keep an eye out for kids who seem adrift or behind—maybe no one talks to them or reads to them or maybe they're hard of hearing—or maybe there's another problem.”

This can be a tricky balance.  There may be something truly wrong with the patient, so it’s important to pay attention to the signs while doing what you can to alleviate the concerns of a patient’s family.

Think you have what it takes?

There’s a lot that goes into becoming and working as a pediatric nurse, but there’s no denying that reaching that goal after years of hard work will be more than worth it. Ready to take the first step toward becoming a pediatric nurse? Check out the Nursing degree page to learn more about how Rasmussen College can help you get there.


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Lauren Elrick

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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