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What Is Pediatric Emergency Room Nursing?

Approximately 20 percent of all emergency room (ER) visits are from pediatric patients. Based on pre-pandemic figures, roughly 17 percent of all children in the United States visit an emergency room each year. These children are treated and cared for by pediatric emergency room nurses.

If you are drawn to both pediatrics and emergency room nursing, pediatric emergency room nursing may be the perfect job for you. Read on to learn everything there is to know about pediatric ER nursing in this ultimate guide.

Table of Contents

What Does PED Stand For?

pediatric nurse

The abbreviation PED stands for “pediatric emergency department,” an alternative term for “pediatric emergency room.” According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of an emergency room is “a hospital room or area staffed and equipped for the reception and treatment of persons requiring immediate medical care.”

Regarding a pediatric ED, the definition is not quite so simple. A pediatric ED or ER may simply be an emergency room that has the capacity to admit pediatric patients. It may also refer to a physically separate pediatric area in an ED. It may refer to membership in the Children’s Hospital Association, or it may depend on the volume of pediatric patients an ED receives. Nevertheless, regardless of the definition, the reality is that over 90 percent of ED visits by children occur in non-specialty facilities or general emergency rooms.

What Does Pediatric Emergency Room Mean in Medical Terms?

Biologically and medically speaking, children are not “little adults.” Therefore, it is essential for physicians and nurses treating children to be knowledgeable and experienced regarding illnesses that are specific to or common in children. Ideally, physicians and nurses working in pediatric emergency rooms should have certifications in both general pediatrics and pediatric emergency care. Aside from knowing how to treat and care for children, pediatric healthcare professionals should also be experts at communicating their knowledge to families effectively.

Although the vast majority of emergency care for children is provided in general emergency rooms, studies have shown significant disadvantages of treating children in general ERs compared with pediatric ERs. For example, pediatric patients in general ERs are less likely to receive guideline‐concordant asthma care. Additionally, they are more likely to receive computed tomography (CT) scans in the evaluation of abdominal pain and higher doses of radiation.

The motives behind pediatric ER visits are diverse and vary by age. That said, the following are some of the most common pediatric diseases and symptoms:

  • Wounds
  • Sprains and strains
  • Viral and respiratory infections
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Recurrent illnesses such as asthma or seizures

Pediatric Nurse vs. Pediatric ER Nurse?

Pediatric nurses focus on the protection, promotion, and optimization of children’s health and abilities from newborn age through young adulthood. They strive to prevent illness and injury, restore health, and maximize children’s comfort in health conditions and at the end of life using a patient- and family-centered approach. In practical terms, they diagnose, treat, and manage children’s conditions and advocate for their patients and their patients’ families.

PED nursing is a subspecialty of both pediatric nursing and emergency room nursing. Pediatric ER nurses treat children suffering from severe and life-threatening conditions. Their main responsibility is to identify the patient’s medical needs and the severity of their condition. They also provide basic life support to stabilize pediatric patients.

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What Is a Pediatric ER Unit in a Hospital?

pediatric operating

Although definitions of pediatric ERs vary, the ERs of children’s hospitals or general ERs that are prepared to admit large numbers of pediatric patients have technology and treatments that are designed for children. They are staffed with physicians and nurses trained in caring for children and with extensive knowledge regarding the prevention and treatment of pain. ERs that are designed for children may even have child life staff available to play games and provide activities for children to ease the anxiety that comes with being in a hospital emergency room. Pediatric ERs also have protocols for pediatric pain and anxiety relief to minimize children’s discomfort.

Pediatric ERs are open around-the-clock year-round and may cater to the needs of a large geographic area. Although these ERs can vary significantly from one hospital to another, a well-funded, state-of-the-art pediatric ER may have all of the following:

  • Private exam rooms able to accommodate parents
  • Private triage rooms
  • Pediatric X-ray rooms and pediatric radiologists
  • Negative-pressure isolation rooms
  • Pediatric trauma bays with equipment designed especially for children
  • A multidisciplinary child protection team specially trained to recognize and treat victims of child abuse
  • Child life specialists to help minimize emotional and psychological trauma
  • Innovative care for children with sensory issues
  • Level I Trauma
  • Child Abuse and Neglect Center
  • Eye Emergency center
  • Burn Center

A pediatric ER is primarily staffed with registered nurses (RNs), including a nurse manager, clinical nurse specialist, informatics nurse, and case manager. The nurse-to-patient ratio can vary from one nurse for each patient to one nurse for four or five patients depending on the facility and the patient’s acuity.

What Is the Role of a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse?

In the strictest terms, pediatric ER nurses work in the emergency rooms of children’s hospitals, exclusively caring for and treating pediatric patients, including newborns, children, and adolescents. That said, many pediatric ER nurses also work in the emergency rooms of general medical surgical and military hospitals, urgent care centers, burn centers, ambulances, and as part of air medical teams or disaster response teams. Furthermore, even within a hospital emergency room, pediatric ER nurses may fulfill different roles, including the following:

  • Trauma nurses work in trauma centers and take over when patients arrive at the ER.
  • Triage nurses determine which patients should be treated first based on the severity of their conditions.
  • Code nurses provide emergency care for the sickest patients during code situations.

What Does a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse Do?

The responsibilities of a pediatric emergency room nurse may vary significantly depending on their specific role and their particular work setting. That said, the following are typical duties of a pediatric ER nurse at a children’s hospital:

  • Perform nursing assessments of patients consistent with their age and condition, including physical, psychological, social, developmental, and educational factors
  • Perform ongoing patient and family assessments and identify variations in diagnoses
  • Evaluate patients’ responses to care, teaching, and discharge plans
  • Document each patient’s progress in the appropriate charts and share observations and assessment outcomes with the rest of the healthcare team and the families
  • Contribute to team efforts by accomplishing the required activities within established parameters
  • Supervise patient care activities of assigned team members and delegate activities appropriate to knowledge, skill, and competency
  • Provide timely feedback and review of care delivery to ensure maintenance of patient safety, infection control procedures, therapeutic environment, and team members’ performance level while maintaining patient confidentiality
  • Work collaboratively with the rest of the patient care team and family members to establish and implement the plan of care, ensuring coordination of activities and ongoing communication of a patient’s health status
  • Participate in patient care rounds and patient care conferences as appropriate

How to Become a Pediatric ER Nurse and How Long Does It Take?

little boy pediatric patient

Aspiring pediatric ER nurses must become licensed RNs by either completing associate’s degrees in nursing (ADNs) or bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degrees. Although ADNs have the advantage of being shorter programs—taking about two years to complete—BSNs, which take approximately four years to complete, make nurses more competitive. In fact, some employers might require BSNs or expect nurses to complete BSNs after being hired. Other common requirements are holding a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification and having a minimum of one year of professional nursing experience, especially in emergency room nursing.

Nurses may also decide to pursue master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or doctorate degrees to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). In fact, 51 percent of the respondents of a study on nurse practitioner roles in pediatric emergency departments reported using nurse practitioners (NPs)—a type of APRN—in their emergency departments. Another finding was that freestanding children’s hospitals were more likely to use NPs than children’s hospitals within general hospitals.

Furthermore, either as RNs or APRNs, nurses may pursue certifications to specialize in emergency room nursing, pediatric nursing, or both.

Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse Certification?

First of all, on top of obtaining a BLS certification, pediatric ER nurses should complete Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certifications, both of which are available through the American Heart Association (AHA).

Additionally, RNs may want to pursue a Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN) certification, available through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). To qualify for this exam, nurses must hold valid RN licenses, and having two years of pediatric ER nursing experience is recommended.

The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) also offers the Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course (ENPC) for RNs. In fact, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and paramedics can also attend this course and obtain continuing nursing education (CNE), but they are not eligible for provider status verification.

In addition to RNs, pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) are increasingly working in pediatric emergency care.

PNPs working in pediatric emergency rooms and wishing to pursue further certification may consider the Acute Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC) certification offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

How Much Does a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for RNs in hospital settings, where most pediatric ER nurses work, is between $84,800 and $85,020 annually. That said, pediatric ER nurses may also find higher-paying jobs, such as in nonscheduled air transportation, which pays approximately $112,630 annually.  

Another—less far-fetched—way for nurses to increase their hourly rates is through travel nursing or PRN nursing jobs. These jobs also offer nurses the highest level of flexibility and the best chance to achieve work-life balance.

Additionally, through higher education and specialized certifications, a pediatric emergency room nurse practitioner may significantly increase their annual income. In fact, pediatric acute care NPs earn approximately $103,148 annually.

What Is Pediatric Emergency Room Nursing Like?

pediatric nurse

The best way to learn what working in a pediatric emergency room is really like is to hear from pediatric ER nurses themselves. This comment on Reddit from a PED nurse can help nurses considering this specialty imagine what a day in a pediatric ER would be like by describing the most common types of patients and symptoms:

“Babies with fevers, kids being seen for accidents (stitches, sprains, broken bones, dog bites, burns), teens there for appendicitis or PID. Throw in some vomiting/diarrhea and a couple of overcautious parents who need reassurance that their kid is OK, and you’ve got a peds ER. Be ready to hand out popsicles & calculate some really small dosages.”

Is Pediatric Emergency Room Nursing Hard?

There are many reasons to choose pediatric ER nursing—from a preference for working with kids to competitive pay. That said, there are also reasons why not to choose pediatric emergency room nursing. The following testimonials from PED nurses on Reddit illustrate some of the challenges of working in this specialty:

“Yeah, the kids are actually great to work with. The parents are often the issue. Recently, I was cut an ativan in half for a kid and thinking to myself “Could I slip this other half into his mother’s water?”…Luckily, the majority of parents I’ve had to deal with are fine, but the potential abuse cases are always tough, especially since many of our are out of state and often require extensive wound and graft treatment after they leave. We’ve had kids come back septic six days later with the same burn dressing we sent them home in.” – Reddit user DragonSon83

“Lots of babies with uncomplicated fevers. Lots of first-time parents overreacting to things. Lots of bumps, bruises, falls, scalds, cuts, scrapes, and other minor injuries. Lots of teens with belly pain, flu, or other illness…But also: Parents who demand perfection, parents who can’t agree on anything, parents who refuse interventions, antivaxxers, abuse, abandonment, foster care, mandatory reporting, and pediatric sexual assault…I love the ED, and I’m fine with peds patients, but I can’t handle full-time peds ED.” – Reddit user auraseer

What Makes a Good Pediatric ER Nurse: Tips for New Nurses?

Do you see yourself working in a pediatric ER? Perhaps you have already applied for the position. If working in a pediatric ER is in your near future, then the following tips will point you in the right direction to becoming an excellent pediatric ER nurse:  

“Peds ED RN and educator here…Find out what specialties are most common for your hospital and which cases will come in at night such as heme/onc patients, hydrocephalus (shunt work ups), seizures, other neuro kids etc…Your hospital should have protocols for the most common patients that come in. Familiarize yourself with the protocol, understand why each step and procedure are important and then you’ll figure out what you can do as a nurse to be proactive and help your whole team…” – Reddit user acehooy

“I have three magic tricks that work most of the time…Get down on eye level with the patient…When trying to give PO meds to a little one, like less than a year, and they’re just being unreasonable, won’t swallow that Tylenol and their temp is like 42.1C, pop a cc in that screaming mouth and blow in their face like you’re blowing bubbles. They make a face like they sucked on a lemon and swallow immediately…My fool proof phrase, works 100% of the time with stressed out parents…”can I get you some tea”…makes everything better and it changes the whole tone of their shift with you.” – Reddit user ChestersAuthority

Final Thoughts on Pediatric Emergency Room Nursing

If nursing, in general, is a noble profession, what could we say about pediatric ER nursing? There is no doubt that it is a praiseworthy career path. However, it is not right for everyone. Some nurses find it easier to care for adults; some simply cannot bear seeing sick or injured children. The question should not be which nursing specialty is the best overall but which is the best suited for you.
If pediatric ER nursing is not a good fit, continue exploring other nursing specialties. After all, there is no better nurse than one who is passionate about their job. Therefore, you owe it to yourself and your patients to find your perfect match.

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