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Could Pediatric Nursing Be Right for You?


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By Megan M. Krischke, contributor 

April 9, 2013 - As you might suspect, pediatric nurses should love caring for children. But beyond that, they also need to enjoy working with families, have the ability to engage children in ways that are playful and positive, possess an abundance of patience, and be able to maintain healthy boundaries with their patients and families. Professional curiosity, adaptability and creativity can also help them succeed.

“Some exciting opportunities are present when working with children and families,” said Myra Huth, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) and president of MH Consulting. “For example, nurses use a multidimensional approach to their care based on the child’s age and developmental level, experience with health care, cultural background, and coping style. Nurses are challenged to use a combination of interventions when providing care to infants, children and adolescents; one strategy does not fit every child. Other challenges include being patient with your explanations and making nursing and medical procedures engaging.”

“Often, dealing with the emotional part of illness is more difficult for children than the physical part,” added Judy Rollins, Ph.D., RN, editor of Pediatric Nursing, adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, director of an artists-in-residence program for the pediatrics unit at Georgetown University Hospital, and president of Rollins & Associates. “Very young children tend to think their illness is because of something they did. Even if you tell them otherwise, they aren’t able to think past that.”

Rollins urges nurses who are interested in the specialty to take the time to volunteer in a pediatric nursing setting because it is unlikely that nursing school offered adequate exposure to the specialty. 

“Often people will tell me that they couldn’t work in ‘peds’ because it is so hard to see kids sick. But what you have to remember is that if you can do something to help that child, particularly when a child has a life-threatening disease, you derive a whole bunch of satisfaction from that because they have their whole lives ahead of them,” she said.

“Children take time, patience and understanding. Often they feel lonely and scared when they are in a hospital or facing a medical procedure that they perceive as threatening and may verbally or physically express their feelings,” reflected Huth. “If you are uncomfortable with seeing a child cry or express anger at you for performing a procedure that hurts, pediatric nursing may not be for you.”

“Working with children requires you to focus on the child, not your discomfort,” Huth continued. “Also, if you are uncomfortable with their parents being present, this may be a consideration for choosing another specialty since family-centered care is the mainstay of pediatric nursing.”

Because many nursing schools do not offer extensive training in pediatrics, a number of hospitals, including Children’s National in Washington, D.C., have created residency programs where novice nurses are intentionally trained and mentored in leadership and clinical skills. Pediatric nurses can pursue certification and become a certified pediatric nurse (CPN) or a certified pediatric emergency nurse (CPEN). There are also certification exams for primary care and acute care pediatric nurse practitioners.

Choosing to go into pediatrics can take your career in a variety of directions. A pediatric nurse can become a clinician, school nurse, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) which includes a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS), holistic health nurse, hospice and palliative care nurse, genetics nurse, nurse midwife, flight transport nurse, research nurse, administrator, educator, office nurse, community-based or home health nurse.

“Every day there is some new way that you can help kids--new technologies, new treatments,” remarked Rollins.

One cutting edge development in pediatric care is fetal surgery. Fetal surgery allows doctors to correct birth defects, such as spina bifida, while the child is still in the womb or to perform surgery to open a blocked airway as part of a C-section delivery, but before the umbilical cord is cut. This allows the baby to “breath” through its umbilical cord until its airway is clear. 

Over the past few decades there has also been a shift in pediatric nursing to family-centered care.

“Family-centered care is an attitude, set of values and approaches that assures a partnership between the family and health care team,” explained Huth. “The underlying belief is that parents know and understand their child’s needs and abilities best. When parents and health care professionals partner, patient care is safer and of higher quality and results in greater patient and family satisfaction.”

“Pediatric nursing is the most exciting and rewarding nursing field because of all the challenges--and the kids are great,” Rollins asserted. “Kids are fascinating. They always surprise and delight you and they teach you so much because they give you the opportunity to see the world through their eyes.” 

For more information on the pediatric nursing specialty, visit the Society of Pediatric Nurses.



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