Steps to take to become a PNP
It’s a great time to take the first step towards becoming a nurse practitioner. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioner represents the fastest-growing job in the US, and U.S. News and World Report ranks it as the #1 best health care job in 2023.
Specialize in pediatrics as an NP and you can discover a rewarding career path making a huge impact throughout the lives of young patients. Take these 7 steps to become a pediatric nurse practitioner:
1. Understand the role of a PNP
A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) is a specialized Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who cares for newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents, and young adults. They can potentially work with doctors, pediatricians, pediatric Physician Assistants (PA), and other healthcare staff to help deliver care for the pediatric patient population.
PNPs in a primary care role provide comprehensive care and may serve as a primary source of care for an individual or family. A PNP job description can include duties such as:
- Prescribe medications, order and interpret diagnostic tests, or order immunizations
- Educate patients and families about specific conditions related to children’s development
- Evaluate developmental milestones and educate parents about normal growth and development
- Care for and provide treatment for acute and chronic illnesses and conditions
- Perform physical examinations, including well-child exams, school, and sports physicals
- Act as a liaison between patients, their families, and doctors
- Refer patients and their families to specialists, community resources and communicate follow-up steps
If you love working with children and seek to earn increased autonomy in practice as a nurse practitioner, becoming a PNP can be a great career choice.
2. Become a Registered Nurse
If you are already a practicing RN, you can skip to #3.
However, if you do not yet work in nursing—or currently work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)—you’ll need to become an RN before progressing to a pediatric nurse practitioner master’s degree program.
The biggest step to become an RN is to enroll in an undergraduate nursing degree program. The Herzing University School of Nursing is built to help you start an exciting new career in nursing:
You can potentially earn RN licensure faster in the ASN pathway, then enroll in an RN to MSN-PNP program in the future. We also offer bridge options for LPNs and other healthcare professionals—available at select campus locations (no online option).
If your GPA isn’t high enough to qualify for nursing school, you may be eligible to enroll in our Associate of Science in General Studies – Pre-nursing program. You can potentially increase your GPA, take some nursing support courses, and apply to nursing school in the future.
3. Choose your specialty pathway
There are two main pediatric nurse practitioner certifications offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB): Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (CPNP-PC) and Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC).1
The PNCB Pediatric Nursing Demographic Report, published in December 2022, states there were 20,254 certified CPNP-PC professionals and 4,419 certified CPNP-AC professionals. Most CPNP-PCs work in private practice, while most CPNP-ACs work in inpatient treatment at children’s hospitals.
Choose the primary care pathway if you’d prefer to build long-term relationships with pediatric patients as a long-term care provider. Choose the acute care pathway if you prefer to work in critical care and treat patients with acute, complex, and chronic illnesses.
If you’d like to learn more about the difference between primary care and acute care NPs, the PNCB recommends this statement from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties. The statement applies generally to all acute and primary care NPs, including those specializing in pediatrics.
4. Enroll in a master’s degree program
Once you’ve earned an undergraduate degree and chosen your specialty, you are ready to apply for a PNP program.
We offer both an MSN-PNP program (go from BSN to MSN) and an Accelerated RN to MSN program (go from ADN/ASN to MSN) in the primary care pediatric nurse practitioner concentration. Both pathways feature 100% online didactic coursework and our pledge to secure your clinical placement.2
5. Earn certification as a CPNP-PC
We strongly recommend getting certified upon graduating with your master’s degree. This will put you in the best position to compete for the job you really want. Some states and organizations require certification to practice.
Graduate from a Herzing University PNP program and you will be qualified to sit for the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (CPNP-PC) certification exam from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).
Recertification must be completed annually, but PNCB has additional requirements to fulfill every 7 years, including update modules and pharmacology requirements. You’ll need to promptly keep up with PNCB requirements to maintain certification throughout your career.
6. Obtain licensure in your state
Note the difference between being licensed and certified: becoming certified shows employers you are capable of patient care in a pediatric setting, while licensure determines if you are legally allowed to practice in your state of residence.
Each state has their own requirements for licensure as an advanced practice nurse. You will need to locate the requirements, which can be found on your state’s board of nursing website along with the current process for licensure.
Keep in mind employers may require board certification before hiring a PNP even if practicing without certification is legally permissible in your state.
Learn more about a career as a PNP
Frequently Asked Questions
Current RNs can potentially become a pediatric nurse practitioner in 2-3 years.
- Associate degree RNs can complete our Accelerated RN to MSN-PNP program in as few as 28 months
- Bachelor’s degree RNs can earn an MSN-PNP in as few as 24 months, or 2 years
- Master's degree RNs can earn a post master's certificate in as few as 20 months
This will depend largely on the board of nursing stipulations in your state. In some instances, it may be permissible for PNPs to see patients past the 18-21 age range who are typically transitioning from pediatric to adult care.
Depending on where you live, there are certain guidelines related to licensure. You will need to check with your state board of nursing.
At Herzing University, we assist you in identifying which certification exam meets your needs. We also encourage testing within the first 90 days of graduation to help you take the next step in your career. Once you have successfully become certified then it is important to connect with your state board to meet their requirements.
Sometimes hospitals form partnerships with schools like ours to provide employees with unique benefits should they choose to pursue an advanced nursing degree.
Employees of Herzing partners can potentially earn college credit for prior work or military experience, transfer existing credit, or earn a scholarship to make going back to school more affordable.
If you are currently an RN considering becoming a nurse practitioner, view our educational partnerships or check with your employer for potential possibilities.
Working with kids can be incredibly rewarding—particularly for primary care pediatric NPs who can help their patients have a healthy childhood and grow from infancy, through adolescence, and into adulthood.
Even within pediatrics alone you’ll encounter great patient diversity in the age range from birth to roughly 21 years old. Every day will bring new challenges with young people at different stages of development and health issues for you to solve.
Kids are fun!—and some of the most determined, impressive patients you’ll ever work with.
Primary factors influencing nurse practitioner pay are experience, where you work, degree level, and the state in which you practice. Your specialty, and the demand for those services in your area, can also potentially impact how much you can make.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest paid nurse practitioners work in Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services industry, indicating nurse practitioners working in emergency care may demand the highest salaries on average. However, specialty is just one of many factors influencing pay, and it’s still possible to make a competitive salary in primary care, acute care, family practice, mental health or any other NP focus.
The highest degree you've earned can also make an impact. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may increase your salary potential as a nurse practitioner. Medscape’s 2021 APRN Compensation Report states nurse practitioners with a doctorate make about 5% more than those with a master’s degree.1
The BLS reports nurse practitioners across all specialties earn an average annual salary of $124,680 per year ($59.94 per hour).* No matter the specialty, nurse practitioner represents a potentially lucrative career path with an average salary well above the national average across all occupations.
1. Hurt, A. (2021, December 3). Average income for advanced practice nurses continued to increase during pandemic: Survey. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/964081
Advancing to nurse practitioner allows you to expand your skillset and potentially earn greater autonomy in your work. While both types of nurses work with the pediatric patient population, most of the differences relate to the general difference between the RN and NP roles.
A few of the biggest differences between RN and NPs include:
- Nurse practitioners can act as a primary care provider, and can potentially spend more time with patients and build longer-term relationships
- Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications
- Nurse practitioners can diagnose patients and write treatment plans
- Nurse practitioners may enjoy a greater work/life balance, as they may have more control over their working schedule
Here’s a selection of the most common types of nurse practitioners:
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
- Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Note: Herzing does not offer a track in Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP).
Each specialty has its own unique requirements in terms of job experience and certification.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for nurse practitioners are expected to grow by 45% from 2022-2032.* Given the projected growth in the baby-boom population the need for advanced medical care is expected to rise, and nurse practitioners will continue to be leaned on as primary contributors in this level of healthcare.