Pediatric healthcare is a growing field. If you're a nurse looking to advance your career and have an interest in helping children thrive, then consider becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) in primary care.
The PNP role offers more autonomy within a collaborative environment, better work-life balance, and the opportunity for advanced clinical practice in nursing.
In today's blog article, we'll provide an overview of the PNP role in the primary care setting, the impact these nurse practitioners have in today's healthcare environment, and how they work to promote their patient population's health and well-being.
What is the Role of a PNP?
PNPs provide compassionate healthcare for children of all ages, ranging from newborns through age 21.
They are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice with a concentration in pediatric healthcare.
PNPs can focus on primary care (PNP-PC) or acute care (PNP-AC). Roughly 90% of nurse practitioners, including PNPs, are certified in primary care.
Those focused in primary care enjoy various responsibilities such as:
- Assessing, analyzing, planning, and implementing interventions
- Promoting health of children and families
- Teaching and counseling children and their families
- Diagnosing and managing acute and chronic illnesses
- Prescribing medication and other therapies
- Ordering vaccines, labs, and diagnostic testing
Additionally, PNPs can be found in many different practice settings, including:
- Pediatric offices
- Specialty clinics
- School-based health centers
- Urgent care clinics
Core Clinical Competencies of a PNP
As an expert in pediatric healthcare, PNPs must master several core competencies. The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates and Practitioners (NAPNAP) has outlined the following competencies as critical parts of a PNP's education:
- Growth and development
- Laboratory skills
- Physical, developmental, family and cultural assessment
- Diagnosis and management of common childhood illnesses, chronic conditions, minor traumas and behavioral problems
Beyond these clinical skills, a PNP must communicate effectively with parents and caregivers who will have the primary responsibility of seeing that care instructions are carried out at home.
An article in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners offers insight: "Take the time to make both the patient and parent comfortable, listen to the parents' concerns (if they don't think you listened to them, they probably won't listen to you), and remember that teaching is as important as diagnosing. The job is very rewarding, and you can make a difference."
Serving Children and Families
PNPs provide patient-centered care by assessing the unique needs of each child and family. This goes beyond a physical exam and includes anticipatory guidance and teaching in child development, behavior, safety, and health behaviors (nutrition, hydration, exercise, stress management, and sleep).
Effective PNPs are compassionate with strong interpersonal skills. PNPs must be able to change their communication style to build rapport with children while educating adults.
For instance, a PNP may explain developmental milestones to help adults understand their child's health progression—and maintain a friendly bedside manner to help the pediatric patient feel involved and at ease during a routine exam.
PNPs build meaningful relationships with their patients and families for years; they are also vital to supporting adolescents as they transition from pediatric to adult care.
PNPs also have leadership roles as they coordinate with health care teams, community leaders, policymakers and others to advocate for children's health.
On the administrative front, PNP leaders can advocate on behalf of other advanced practice nurses. Leadership in advocacy can address children in special or vulnerable population groups, such as homeless children, foster youth, or children of migrant workers.
Pediatric Healthcare: Facing COVID-19
There are several challenges that children and families face because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control, most children who have contracted the disease seem to have a milder course compared to adults, especially older adults. But severe illness in children has been reported among some infants and in children.
While the risk for severe illness in children is lower than adults, children can spread the disease to others. PNPs must guide families and caregivers on the importance of following CDC recommendations regarding social distancing, wearing face coverings and hand hygiene.
When dealing with a confirmed case and providing the best guidance on care, PNPs can help families understand issues around exposure and discuss when it is safe to return to school or other activities.
PNPs can discuss the value and safety of vaccinating teens and children against COVID-19.
How Do PNPs Help Children During the Pandemic?
PNPs may also become aware of social and behavioral problems associated with isolation related to children remaining home from daycare or schools for extended periods.
Some children may have lost family members. Others may feel anxious because of the effects of isolation or trauma due to the pandemic.
During well-child visits, PNPs can ask caregivers if they have seen signs of distress in children's behavior, such as:
- Regression in young children—behaving in a stage more appropriate for a younger child (a weaned child who wants to nurse, for example), or immature behavior in teens
- Stomach aches or headaches in children or teens
- Mood changes, including depression or anxiety, or tantrums in young children
- Changes in thinking, including forgetfulness or poor concentration, or loss of trust in adults' ability to protect them
- Increased risk-taking, substance use or changes in sleep or appetite
- Dramatic changes in social interactions—either notable withdrawal from or over-reliance on friends or classmates
PNPs can help parents and caregivers understand how children are dealing with disruptions caused by the pandemic. They may suggest age-appropriate coping mechanisms or connect families to behavioral health resources if needed.
What is the Career Outlook for a PNP?
PNPs enjoy a rewarding career and make long-lasting contributions to impact children, families, and communities positively.
As a PNP, you'll be in demand nationwide. There is a need for PNPs as only 5% of nurse practitioners are certified in pediatrics. The American Academy of Colleges of Nursing states, "The current demand for master's- and doctorally prepared nurses for advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching, and research roles far outstrips the supply."
The demand for certified PNPs will continue for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected a growth rate of 45% for all nurse practitioners through 2029, putting the profession at the second-fastest growth for jobs in the country.
The BLS also cites a median annual base salary for PNPs of $115,000. Some sources indicate a higher income for PNPs. For example, in the first half of 2021, Indeed.com reported a national average salary for PNPs at just over $124,000.
Aspiring PNPs can look forward to a future of increased opportunity.
Lead the Way in Pediatric Healthcare
Spring Arbor University's online Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Practitioner (MSN-NP) degree program equips students with the clinical expertise to promote health and to prevent, assess, treat, and manage acute and chronic diseases.
Those interested in pediatric healthcare can choose the PNP-PC advanced specialty track and graduate prepared to sit for the PNP-PC certification exam and to begin their new roles within 28 months.
PNP students will thrive in a close online community and grow from a faith-based education. As a Spring Arbor PNP student, you will:
- Develop the clinical competencies to provide primary healthcare in the context of normal growth and development, health promotion, health maintenance and healthcare management for children from birth through age 21
- Gain experience in assessment, diagnosis and treatment, including collaboration with appropriate pediatric specialists, for pediatric patients experiencing complex, chronic or disabling life-long processes
- Translate evidence into clinical practice based on a problem or need within pediatrics—and more
Spring Arbor's flexible MSN-NP program is designed so PNP students can continue working full-time while advancing their careers. With six intake dates throughout the year, you can begin at a time that suits you best.