June 20, 2021

10 Top Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs 20201 and How To Become A PNP

Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

For nurses that want to continue their education and specialize, finding the right school for their advanced practice degree is important - and becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner is no different. Highly in demand, nurse practitioners are able to provide a more cost-effective health care to patients.

Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) care for a wide array of patients - from infants to young adults. Furthermore, this specialty is one of the top paying nursing specialties and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the demand for pediatric NPs to increase much faster than most other careers.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners

  • There are roughly 270,000 nurse practitioners licensed in the United States
  • Currently, only 4% are licensed as pediatric nurse practitioners
  • 31.1% practice in a hospital setting, while 51.6% work in outpatient clinics

While most PNP students focus on primary care, there are also acute care programs that focus on the critical care aspect of caring for children. 

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners can work in a variety of settings including:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Clinics
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Research organizations
  • Home health care
  • Surgical centers
  • Military facilities
  • Emergency Rooms
  • Urgent care facilities
  • Schools
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Community agencies
  • Private practice

With demand for PNPs rising, nurses are going back to school to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree in pediatric nursing. Finding the right school is an important first step for these nurses.

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What do Pediatric Nurse Practitioners do?

Pediatric nurse practitioners perform a variety of tasks throughout their day. These duties include, 

  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Performing routine checkups
  • Prescribing medication and other treatments
  • Conducting sick visit exams
  • Administering childhood immunizations
  • Development screenings
  • School physicals
  • Lactation support
  • Newborn care
  • Teen birth control counseling
  • Providing resources to families
  • Connecting patients and families with specialists, if needed
  • Providing emotional support and wellness advice
  • Ordering laboratory tests and imaging
  • Analyzing laboratory and imaging results
  • Educating children and their families

>>Related: How To Go From an RN to an NP

What is The Difference Between a Registered Nurse and a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner? 

A PNP is an advanced practice nurse that holds special training and manages the overall care of the pediatric patient. A registered nurse is responsible for performing physical assessments, distributing medication, and carrying out the orders set forth by the medical team. 

Nurse Practitioners conduct physical exams, take a patient’s history, order labs and imaging, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medications. They can also act as a patient’s primary care provider. Nurses can not diagnose, prescribe medication, order tests, or act as a primary care provider. RNs typically work alongside physicians, whereas PNPs can work independently. 

What is the Difference Between a Physician and A Pediatric Nurse Practitioner? 

Nurse Practitioners and physicians are very different in their education, training, roles, and responsibilities. 

PNPs typically earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and at least a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or doctor in nursing practice (DNP) degrees. Post-master’s NP certifications are available in subspecialties. Education and training are roughly six to nine years for students to become a PNP. 

Physicians, on the other hand, earn a bachelor’s degree and then complete medical school and medical residency. Depending on their specialty they may also complete a fellowship. Physicians train for a minimum of eleven years and upwards of sixteen years for specialties such as pediatric neurosurgery and pediatric cardiothoracic surgery. 

Physicians and PNPs may see similar patients and function in similar capacities in outpatient primary care offices but in a hospital setting, physicians are the primary care providers with nurse practitioners working underneath them. Another main difference is physicians can prescribe any medication independently to their patients while some states require nurse practitioners to have a cosigner from a licensed physician. 

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Pediatric NP Pay, Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment opportunities for all nurse practitioners would grow by 31% between 2016 and 2026. This is much faster than other occupations and a result of increasing demand for healthcare services. While there is no specific data released regarding pediatric nurse practitioners, the recent surge of births has dramatically increased the need for this specialty. Additionally, as the healthcare industry continues to change there will continue to be a need for PNPs. 

The BLS doesn’t have specific data regarding a pediatric nurse practitioner’s salary. However, the median pay for general nurse practitioners as of May 2018 was $107,030. Due to the expected increase in demand for capable pediatric nurse practitioners, median wages will likely increase over the coming years. 

The BLS reports that in May 2018 the highest paying states for nurse practitioners were:

  • California: $133,780
  • Alaska: $122,880
  • Massachusetts: $122,740
  • New Jersey: $122,100
  • New York: $120,970

The BLS also reported that the top five metropolitan cities for nurse practitioner pay were:

  • New Bedford, Massachusetts: $156,980
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $150,790
  • Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington: $148,440
  • Sumter, South Carolina: $145,890
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, California; $145,400

The top five non-metropolitan cities for nurse practitioner pay, according to the BLS, were:

  • Big Thicket Region of Texas nonmetropolitan area: $143,480
  • Central Louisiana nonmetropolitan area: $141,380
  • Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California nonmetropolitan area: $128,410
  • Coastal Plains Region of Texas nonmetropolitan area: $127,370
  • Southwest New York nonmetropolitan area: $125,260

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How To Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Here are the steps to take In order to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, 

  • Earn accreditation and experience as a Registered Nurse. Most schools require 2-5 years of bedside pediatric experience.
  • Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Without a bachelor’s degree, you will not be able to attend graduate school
  • Complete a pediatric NP track during graduate school to specifically care for pediatric patients.
  • Individuals with a BSN can complete an MSN/NP program in two to four years depending on the length of the program and if it is full time or part-time. In order to complete the program on a full-time basis, you will not be able to work. Classroom time is rigorous and clinical rotations are required throughout the program
  • Obtaining a Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner (DNP) can take another two to four years and is considered a terminal degree for advanced practice nurses

In order to gain admission to a PNP program, applicants will need to apply to a program that is accredited and offers a reputable program. To apply, nurses should expect to submit the following:

  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendations
  • Resume
  • References
  • GRE scores
  • Personal statement
  • Application for admission
  • Application fees
  • Personal interview

All pediatric nurse practitioners must become certified in the specialty in order to practice. There are currently two certification exams for students. 

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1. The Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PPCNP-BC) is offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Students have four hours to answer 200 questions. The exam is $275 for members of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and $395 for non-members. To be eligible, applicants must: 

  • Eligibility requirements: Hold a current RN license, have graduate level education in an accredited PNP program, and have a minimum of 500 completed supervised clinical hours in their PNP program

2. The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) also offers certification but in two PNP areas: primary care or acute care. The exams are three hours long and include 175 questions. The costs are $385 for non-members and $310 for members. 

  • Eligibility requirements: For either of these exams, applicants need to meet the following requirements:
    • Hold a current RN license
    • Having transcripts from an accredited graduate-level program in pediatric care
    • Completing 500 supervised clinical practice hours in a pediatric setting

Pathways to Becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

To become a PNP, you must first have your Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). If you only have an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. This is a must before any graduate program can be started. 

If you’re working as an RN with an ADN, there are two programs that would help you achieve your goals. They are an RN-BSN bridge program and an online BSN program. Each program has its own requirements and it’s important to determine which programs you qualify for before applying. Furthermore, decide if you are a distance education learner or need hands-on classroom instruction.  

  • RN-BSN bridge programs are ideal for nurses who completed an ADN program or are diploma RNs and now need to further their education. This program is ideal for working individuals with families and life commitments because it provides more flexibility with a heavy emphasis on online learning. Prospective BSN bridge program students should first reach out to their Human Resources department to inquire about tuition reimbursement through the healthcare system. Some hospitals have strong associations with certain online universities. This will allow employees to have a direct point of contact for the program, a streamlined application process, and may receive a higher level of tuition reimbursement.
    • Basic requirements:  Applicant must possess an RN license in good standing with no disciplinary action. An ADN degree is required. Working a minimum of 30 hours per week or pass an equivalency exam. Pass a criminal background check. 
  • Online RN-BSN programs are great for busy, working professionals. These programs allow the student to work when their schedule permits and can be completed at their own pace. 
    • Basic requirements: Applicant must possess an RN license in good standing with no disciplinary action. An ADN degree is required. Working a minimum of 30 hours per week or pass an equivalency exam. Pass a criminal background check. 

Most programs have a progression they like their students to take. This is because each course builds upon the previous course. Programs are generally expected to be completed within two to three years. It is suggested to take two courses per semester. Some programs will allow students to take up to three courses in one semester but special consideration may need to be given.

There are a couple of programs, including Vanderbilt University, that offer ADN-NP programs. This is specifically designed for nurses who have an ADN and they will continue their school through to an NP program. They even have one for Pediatric Nurse Practitioners!

If you know that you want to become a PNP, it is important to start classes for your BSN as soon as possible. This education will take several years to complete, depending on the program and will ultimately delay applying for your PNP courses. 

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For nurses that have a BSN, there are two main types of NP programs offered both in-person and online: 

  • MSN-NP. One of the most common options for NP programs, the MSN-NP is for students who already have their BSN and enroll directly into the program at the graduate level. 
    • Basic requirements: Applicant must possess a BSN degree. 
  • DNP. Doctorate Nurse Practitioner programs allow students to receive their doctorate degrees while meeting the requirements to become an NP. The DNP is generally suited for nurses who plan on working more in an academic or research-based setting, 
    • Basic requirements: Applicant must possess a BSN degree. 
  • Post-graduate certificate. If you have a graduate degree that is different from the area that you wish to specialize in now with your NP, you can search for a school that offers a post-graduate certification option to allow you to enroll directly into the program. 
    • Basic requirements: Post-grad certificate programs require you to either possess your Master’s Degree of Science in Nursing (MSN) or have a Nurse Practitioner qualification in another specialty.

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Top 10 Best Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

The demand for pediatric nurse practitioners is growing. Nurses who attend the best schools with have access to better opportunities upon graduation. 

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Primary Care (PNP-PC) is the most popular pediatric nurse practitioner option available at these schools. However, some schools also offer Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Acute Care programs as well.

Here are the 10 best pediatric nurse practitioner programs:

1. Duke University

Tuition: $16,463 per semester

A top-ranked program, Duke University’s PNP-PC program has part-time and full-time study options available. However, students are required to study on-campus as there is no online option available for this program. They also have a program specifically for pediatric nurse practitioner - acute care.

2. University of Pennsylvania

Tuition: $45,484 per year

The University of Pennsylvania offers MSN programs in both primary and acute care pediatric nursing. In fact, there are multiple options available for acute care, giving students the chance to hone their skills. Tuition is high but may be reduced with the help of financial aid.

3. Johns Hopkins University

Tuition: $45,568 per year

The only PNP program offered at Johns Hopkins is a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). However, the quality of education at this institute is among the best in the nation. By the end of their studies, students will be exceptionally prepared for their career as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

4. Rush University

Tuition: $1,066 per credit hour 

One of the best grad programs for pediatric primary care, Rush University’s DNP program is completely online and accredited. With a class size of only 24, it is a difficult program to get accepted into.

5. University of Washington

Tuition: $8,842 per quarter

Part of a track within the DNP program, UW’s PNP program puts students on a designated track to prepare them to work in primary care. The program is a combination of on and off-campus studies, something for students to keep in mind. Students should also note that UW is on quarters, not semesters.

6. Vanderbilt University

Tuition: $1,454 per credit hour

Vanderbilt’s PNP-PC program is a hybrid of online and offline learning and most students who participate in this program study full-time. By the end of this program, students will have earned a master’s degree. With a class size of 40-50, this is one of the larger programs on this list.

7. Yale

Tuition: $1,575 per credit hour 

Yale’s Post-Master’s PNP program is an extension available to students who are already studying for an MSN at Yale University or have earned a degree, something to keep in mind while applying. However, this allows students to have a specialty focus with a broader understanding of nursing in conjunction with their MSN.

8. University of California San Francisco

Tuition: $3,834 per quarter 

The University of California, San Francisco is only available to students studying toward a graduate degree or higher in the field of health. This is a general PNP program, not requiring any specific specialization in primary or acute care.

9. Columbia University

Tuition: $1,930 per credit hour 

A doctoral program, Columbia University’s PNP program more than prepares nurses for a successful career as a pediatric nurse practitioner. As a specialty program, students will need to study toward a DNP and then take the required courses to specialize in pediatrics.

10. University of Pittsburgh

Tuition: $1,064 per credit hour 

University of Pittsburgh’s BSN to DNP program takes three years, but it’s well worth it. Students interested in the PNP-PC program can also study by doing a post master’s to DNP, and are able to study part-time or full-time.

Picking the Right School

Because of different factors, students may find that one school is a better fit for them than another. Before applying to a PNP program, be sure to consider the following:

  • Cost: How affordable is the school? Do they offer financial aid to students? Are there scholarships available?
  • Location: Many programs require students attend on-campus lectures or simulations. Can you commute to the program? Are you willing to move to a new area to attend this school? If the school is online, can you learn best this way?
  • Where are the clinical locations? What hospitals is the school associated with? Do they give you clinical placements or are you responsible for finding them?
  • Will I be able to work during the program? Will I be able to quit my job and support myself during school? Do they offer medical insurance? Is it possible to work part-time or per diem during school?
  • How long it takes to earn a degree? Most programs can be completed in as little as two years but all programs require completion within five years. Will you be able to attend school full time or part-time?
  • Is it a master’s or doctoral program? Not all schools offer the same terminal degree type for pediatric nurse practitioners. Make sure to research which option is best for you, both personally and professionally. 

Becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner is a fulfilling and rewarding career. There is autonomy from other medical professionals and you get to be the primary care provider for your patients. PNPs must possess advanced critical thinking skills, compassion towards their patients and families, resourcefulness, self-confidence in your abilities, strong communication skills, and a desire to help children and their families. 

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Helpful Organizations, Societies, & Agencies

Check out these organizations for additional information and resources,

Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

American Nurses Credentialing Center 

American Association of Colleges of Nursing

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