The next time you schedule your child for a health care appointment, you may be interested to learn you have the option of scheduling with a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP). This article will describe the role and functions of a PNP and explain why you might consider saying yes to that appointment.

A PNP is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who specializes in the area of pediatric health care and is dedicated to improving the lives of children. PNPs must meet rigorous state board regulations that govern advanced practice nursing. Advanced practice nurses expand on the traditional role of the nurse to develop a level of highly skilled, autonomous practice. They develop not only expanded medical skills, but also have considerable training in ethics, research, leadership, and education.

The PNP provides health care to children from birth through age 21 in a variety of settings from the primary care office to a subspecialty clinic at the hospital. Although originally PNP’s were trained to provide well child care and management of common childhood illnesses in rural areas, PNP’s fill roles providing both well and sick care in general pediatric practices as well as in many subspecialty areas such as pediatric oncology, pediatric pulmonology, and child neurology. PNP’s may also be found teaching in universities, completing research, publishing, changing policy, in school nursing, in legislative roles, or in a private practice.

Since the early 1990’s, nurse practitioners have been required to hold a master’s degree and certification in the area of specialty but don’t be confused if your nurse practitioner is called doctor. Many nurse practitioners have gone on to achieve doctorates (PhD, DNP, or EdD) in a variety of fields including nursing, public health, education, or human development. With the increasing complexity of the health care environment, the trend is for all PNP’s to complete doctoral education in years to come.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioners perform a wide variety of health care services such as:

  • Documenting the patients history
  • Completing a comprehensive physical examination
  • Providing health maintenance and well child examinations
  • Diagnosing and treating common pediatric illnesses
  • Prescribing medications
  • Ordering, performing, and analyzing tests
  • Assessing the child’s development
  • Providing immunizations
  • Working together with a child and family to develop a holistic plan of care
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of a treatment plan
  • Making referrals to other health care providers
  • Making referrals to community resources
  • Providing patient and family anticipatory guidance and health teaching

Many parents, new to the concept of the PNP, wonder about the relationship between the physician and the PNP. Although PNP can and do work independently, most practice in a environment of collaboration and collegiality with a pediatrician or family practice physician. The PNP and physician work together to provide high quality care for all children. Families benefit from the unique contributions each provider may offer. In addition to managing pediatric health problems, the PNP will emphasize development, health promotion, preventative health care, education, and offer expert counseling on topics as varied as teething and temper tantrums to adolescent pregnancy. PNPs are interested in the whole child and family, not just the presenting concern. PNPs are able to manage approximately 80% of all primary care problems. Thus, they can fill many gaps in care, especially in busy practices, underserved areas, and for underserved populations.

So why not? At your child’s next appointment, try the pediatric nurse practitioner and experience the expert nursing care that Florence Nightingale may only have imagined.