Working as a PNP: what you need to know
A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) is a specialized advanced practice nurse who cares for newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents, and young adults.
PNPs provide comprehensive care, including well-child and physical exams; diagnose illnesses and form treatment plans; and offer health education for patients and their families. They work closely with physicians and medical teams in hospitals, clinics, and schools. In some cases, a PNP may be the primary source of care for an individual or family.
PNP general job duties
Pediatric nurse practitioners perform a variety of duties including perform exams, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and develop treatment plans. Because their patients range in age from infants to young adults, PNPs have the skills to work with both the patient and their family to provide the right resources and care, including education and emotional support.
Many patients see the same PNP for a long time—months or even years—so PNPs must also be attentive and proactive to address any potential health issues as their patients mature.
Other duties a PNP may perform include:
- Assess and evaluate growth patterns
- Screen for and manage mental illness in children
- Educate patients and families about specific conditions related to children’s development
- Evaluate developmental milestones and educate parents about normal growth and development
- Order and interpret laboratory diagnostic tests
- Care for and provide treatment for acute illnesses (such as cough/flu)
- Care for and provide treatment for chronic conditions (such as asthma or diabetes)
- Prescribe medication and order immunizations
- Perform physical examinations, including well-child exams, school, and sports physicals
- Perform preventive care and developmental check-ups
- Act as a liaison between patients, their families, and doctors
- Refer patients and their families to specialists, community resources and communicate follow-up steps
- Document and report concerns, such as abuse, neglect, or developmental delays
- Provide teen birth control counseling
- Provide patients and their loved ones with emotional support and advice
Pediatric nurses may earn a variety of certifications. Listed below is a selection of possibilities with the abbreviation, title, and general job description.
- CPN - Certified Pediatric Nurse. The CPN designation showcases a Registered Nurse’s (RN) expertise, specialized knowledge and flexibility in pediatric nursing.
- PNP - Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. PNPs provide medical care for children from infancy to early adulthood. They focus on wellness and preventive medicine, as well as diagnose and treat illnesses and educate the patient and family on illness and treatment options. In many states, PNPs can work without a physician’s oversight, so they can run their own practice and serve their patients as the primary care provider.
- PCS - Pediatric Certified Specialist. A PCS or pediatric specialist offers physical therapy treatment to children. A PCS focuses on treating traumatic, developmental, and systemic disorders that relate specifically to children. They provide evaluation, habilitative care (helping children learn or improve skills for daily living, such as walking or speaking) and rehabilitative care (helping a child recover after injury or illness).
- CPNP-PC - Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care. CPNP-PC designation is granted to nurses who have demonstrated expertise and specialized knowledge in pediatric primary care, including treating chronic illnesses.
- CPNP-AC - Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care: Pediatric nurse practitioners can also earn CPNP-AC designation. These PNPs focus on helping children who have illnesses that develop quickly and only last a short time—typically a few days or weeks.
- CHPPN - Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse. The CHPPN designation is for nurses working with pediatric hospice and palliative care patients.
- PMHS - Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist. This designation showcases APRNs’ knowledge and expertise in the early identification, intervention, and collaboration of care for children and adolescents with mental and behavioral health concerns.
Eligibility requirements vary by certification and include some combination of minimum education and experience. Organizations such as the Society for Pediatric Nursing or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners offer resources and support for preparing for such exams.
Primary vs. acute pediatric nurse practitioners
The two main focuses for pediatric nurse practitioners are primary care and acute care. Both provide care for pediatric patients from infant to young adult, but there are key differences:
- Primary care pediatric nurse practitioners (PNP-PC) are trained to support children’s health through well-child visits, preventive care and management of common pediatric illnesses and common chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. They partner with the patient and his or her family to emphasize health promotion, disease prevention and treat minor acute and chronic health problems. PNP-PCs may work in a hospital, urgent or walk-in care clinic, or school-based health center.
- Acute care pediatric nurse practitioners (CPNP-AC) provide specialized care to patients with complex, critical and chronic illnesses or injuries. They must possess an understanding of how these illnesses, injuries and disorders affect children and their development. CPNP-ACs often work in emergency departments, intensive care, or trauma units, and as part of critical care transport teams.
PNP vs. related jobs in pediatrics
Pediatric nurse practitioners share some commonalities with other healthcare professions. The groups work together to ensure the best care for their patients; however, there are key differences between the roles.
PNP vs. pediatric RN
Both PNPs and pediatric registered nurses provide medical care for children from birth through their late teens, sometimes up to age 21. Both PNPs and pediatric RNs are specially trained to provide care to young patients, while working closely with the family to communicate care plans, address their concerns, and educate them on treatment options.
Nurse practitioners and RNs have different education requirements, however. Pediatric RNs must possess an undergraduate degree, while PNPs must have a master’s degree in addition to the RN designation.
Additionally, PNPs may be the primary source of care for an individual or family, while a nurse has more limited care options. (For example, PNPs can prescribe medication to patients without oversight from a doctor in many states.)
PNP vs. Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP)
FNPs and PNPs see patients and develop various strategies to treat acute illnesses and manage chronic diseases. However, the main difference between PNPs and family nurse practitioners (FNPs) is that PNPs care for patients from birth to young adulthood, while FNPs provide care to patients across the lifespan.
While both PNPs and FNPs are trained to care for young patients, PNPs typically have more in-depth knowledge of pediatrics. In contrast, an FNP has knowledge to treat both young and older patients. For example, an FNP may provide a well-child exam and then develop a treatment plan for an elderly person with a heart condition.
PNP vs. pediatrician
Both PNPs and pediatricians can diagnose and treat various illnesses. They can perform medical exams, order and interpret laboratory tests, and develop treatment plans.
However, a pediatrician is a medical doctor who is authorized to diagnose and treat illnesses in children. As a medical doctor, they can perform more advanced duties than a PNP, such as:
- Prescribe medications and vaccines in all states where they are licensed
- Perform surgery
- Research new medical treatments
PNP vs. Pediatric Physician Assistant (PA)
PNPs and pediatric PAs are trained to treat young patients from infancy to adolescence. Both PNPs and pediatric physician assistants can examine patients, order diagnostic tests, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and provide treatment.
Two key differences between PNPs and pediatric physician assistants are the training approach and the amount of schooling.
PNPs are trained using a more holistic nursing approach to patient care. This means they focus on specific populations, such as children, rather than focus on a specific type of medicine.
Physician assistants are trained using a medical model, meaning they specialize in a specific field of medicine and provide care through disease management and prevention.
PNPs must possess RN certification and a master’s degree, while physician assistants must complete a PA program from an accredited school, which typically takes about two years. After this, students must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified.