Considering a career in the pediatric nursing specialty?
There are plenty of good reasons to do so. Pediatric nurses have higher salaries than many other registered nurses (RNs), and there’s plenty of flexibility in the type of facilities or roles you can work in.
Of course, working with pediatric patients has its unique advantages and disadvantages. In addition to the pros and cons, some roles may require you to gain certification as a pediatric nurse on top of your RN license. There’s also a specialized set of skills that pediatric nurses will need to master in order to excel in their jobs.
If you’re wondering which pediatric nursing skills you’ll want to master (or at least work on) if you’re considering this career, read on: There are six core skills pediatric nurses use daily.
1. Pediatric Medical Knowledge & Skills
Treating an adult and treating a toddler are two completely different experiences for several reasons. The toddler is more likely to lose their mind over vaccines than an adult, but the entire medical portion is different, too.
You can’t give children under two cough syrup, for example, and over-the-counter medications have strict dosing requirements for kids’ safety.
Some illnesses also present differently or are more rampantly apparent in children than in adults. Something as simple as the flu could be incredibly dangerous in an infant, for example, and understanding the difference between a basic stomach bug and a serious gastrointestinal infection can be essential to giving doctors the information they need from your intake exam.
You can learn some of this on the job, but studying pediatric medicine extensively and taking time to learn how to best insert an IV for young children with minimal pain can go a long way to help you be the best pediatric nurse possible.
2. Friendliness, Empathy, and Trust-Building
These are technically three different skills, but friendliness, empathy, and trust-building all go hand in hand.
Even as a healthy adult, you’d likely be less than thrilled to walk into an exam room with a cranky nurse who seems cold or dismissive. No one wants to be trying to explain that they might be dizzy or lightheaded, but they’re not sure, only for the nurse to go, “Well, which is it? How do you not know?”
The ability to walk in with a warm smile (even if you’re wearing a mask, they can see it in your eyes), a calming disposition, and genuine curiosity and empathy can go a long way. If the patient doesn’t feel dismissed, minimized, or mocked, they’re more likely to open up to you. The patient and their parent may go into more detail about what’s happening, and as they trust you, it will be easier to render any necessary treatments.
Some people think patience is a trait, but any nurse can tell you from firsthand experience that patience is also a skill that you’ll want to hone over time. You may need to take an extra minute to let an anxious child warm up to you. You’ll also need the patience of a saint while dealing with overprotective, anxious, and unnecessarily argumentative parents.
Pediatric nursing comes with unique frustrating challenges, and patience can help you tackle the worst of them with grace.
4. Ability to Manage Stressed Children & Overprotective Parents
Managing children is a unique skill set, so hands-on experience in the field with extensive training is important.
No five-year-old wants a shot. It’s not uncommon to see some children try to hide, cling to their mothers’ arms screaming, or even try to rip an IV out of their arms. They’re the outliers, but it does happen.
Being comfortable with kids—including both neurotypical and neurodiverse children—is key here. Knowing how to explain what will happen in a way they’ll understand and value is a good first step. The ability to understand triggers for children who may be on the autism spectrum can also help, as they may require a different approach.
And just as it’s important to know how to manage children, it’s also crucial to understand how to manage parents. Parents know their children best, but they can also go too far trying to protect them to the point where it can obstruct their care somehow. Most pediatric nurses have their own approach to dealing with difficult parents, so taking time to find yours will be essential.
5. Strong Observational Skills
One of the challenges of pediatric nursing is that kids may not always know how to explain what hurts or how it hurts. Some patients may be too young to communicate at all.
As an adult, you may say, “It feels like there’s pressure in my chest like a boa constrictor is squeezing.” For a kid, it just might “hurt” or “feel weird.”
Because of this potential communication barrier, pediatric nurses must have solid observational skills. They will often see the patients before the doctor and can play a vital role in collecting information for diagnoses, whether they’re working in-office for a pediatrician or as triage nurses at a pediatric hospital.
Look for subtle signs that the parents may not notice or the child may not think to mention: glassy eyes, slouched-over posture, an unusual expression, and signs of stiffness or limpness. These are small indicators that a parent may miss or that a child may not notice but that can help you help the doctor figure out what’s wrong.
6. Understanding of Ethical Obligations
Pediatric nursing comes with its own set of ethical obligations and complexities that you need to know about before you get started.
Confidentiality and HIPAA, for example, are standard in the medical industry. But what happens when a fourteen-year-old patient tells you that they want to be vaccinated even though their parent is adamantly against it? And what if they want you to keep it a secret?
For reference, the HIPPA does generally allow a parent to have access to a child’s medical records, but there are a few exceptions, one of which is if the parent agrees that the minor and provider can have a confidential relationship.
As a mandatory reporter, it’s also crucial that pediatric nurses are trained to identify signs of neglect (intentional or not), struggles at home, and any kind of child abuse. You may be the best chance at getting a child or a family the help they need, and if you have any concerns, these concerns should be brought both to the overseeing physician and child protective services. As a mandatory reporter, you’ll need to file the report yourself if you see evidence of potential abuse.
Considering which branch of nursing you want to pursue? Click here for more information on different nursing specialties!