The Complicated Role of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

Formal nursing has played an important role in healthcare for over 150 years. Doctors diagnose and treat patients, but nurses handle patient care, including administering medication and checking vital signs.

Gradually, the role of nurses has expanded, with many registered nurses specializing in different patient populations or the type of care they offer. Some are even continuing their education to become specialized nurse practitioners, such as pediatric nurse practitioners.

Pediatric nurse practitioners are becoming more common and helping to ease the physician shortage we’re facing in the United States. But what does a pediatric nurse practitioner do, exactly, and why is their role in the healthcare system a little bit complicated? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are recognized as a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). They have advanced training in medicine and can provide a wide range of healthcare services for patients. Some nurse practitioners even have their own practices and provide many of the same services as doctors.

Rather than providing “bedside care,” which is usually carried out by registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), NPs and other APRNs generally create treatment plans and oversee patient care. They typically have much more autonomy than an RN would and can help patients with everything from preventative care to treatment for acute injuries and illnesses that come on suddenly.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

While many nurse practitioners specialize in general care and are known as family nurse practitioners (FNPs), pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) specialize in caring for children, also including infants, toddlers, and teens. Working with pediatric patients can be challenging for a number of different reasons, but nurse practitioners get into this field because they love children and want to help them stay healthy.

What is the Role of a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

A PNP has an in-depth understanding of child development and the specialized medical needs of children. They can help families with a variety of needs, including childhood wellness checkups, giving immunizations, answering health questions, and treating common childhood illnesses and disorders. PNPs also need to be able to spot signs of abuse and be prepared to report their suspicions if necessary.

In some situations, a nurse practitioner will be able to provide most or all of the services a child needs from their pediatrician. In other cases, a PNP will be part of a larger care team, helping a pediatrician deliver care to children. PNPs have to be extremely patient in order to work with children and their families, who are often scared or confused when they visit the doctor.

Limitations on Nurse Practitioners Can Complicate Care Plans

Depending on an individual state’s laws, nurse practitioners do not always have full practice authority. In some states, they are allowed to diagnose patients and prescribe medications. In others, they need a physician’s oversight or are otherwise limited in the care they can provide.

This means that depending on where you live, becoming a nurse practitioner might not give you the autonomy you’re looking for. If your state has strict limitations on what you can do as a nurse practitioner, it’s important to realize that your job and responsibilities will be different from an NP in a full-practice state.

A Focus on Coordinating Care

PNPs need to be prepared to coordinate care with other healthcare providers, particularly in states that do not allow full practice for APRNs. A PNP needs a wide variety of skills to properly work with pediatric patients and other providers to deliver excellent care. Some of these skills include:

      • Diagnosing patients who cannot express themselves verbally
      • Calming fearful children and parents
      • Collaborating verbally with other providers to create care plans
      • Taking thorough notes to share with other providers
      • Educating families on child development and health

Pediatric nurse practitioners must be compassionate, thorough, organized, and tactful. They need to be prepared to look at a child’s health from every angle and take a variety of factors into account when diagnosing and prescribing treatment or medications.

Becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

The road to becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner begins with becoming a registered nurse. Then, a master’s degree in nursing is required before you can take the board examination to become a PNP. The full-time programs can be expensive, but there are scholarships available.

If you have an associate’s degree, the process of becoming a PNP takes 3-4 years if you attend your program full-time. Those with a bachelor’s degree can usually complete the education requirements in 2 years.

Becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner is no easy feat. However, the demand for skilled healthcare professionals is growing and there’s never been a better time to be an APRN. If you love kids and want more autonomy as a nurse, being a PNP could be the perfect role for you

With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.