Pediatric nurses work with patients of all ages, ranging from infancy to early twenties, and are responsible for treating a variety of conditions. They not only play a key role in assessing children’s needs – treating common childhood acute and chronic illnesses, such as ear, nose and throat infections – but pediatric nurses must also be equipped to assess their patients’ ongoing growth and development. While pediatric nursing can be a very rewarding career, it can also present its own unique challenges in that children have such rapidly growing and changing bodies.
According to Anne L. Derouin, DNP, RN, CPNP, assistant professor at the Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, N.C., children’s bodies and minds function very differently compared to adults, which is why it is especially important for pediatric nurses to be knowledgeable about human growth and development, and adapt their knowledge to each individual patient.
For example, when illness develops in a child, the onset of the first signs and symptoms can be much more sudden and severe than in an adult. This is due to the fact that children have less developed body systems and immunity.
“The primary role of a pediatric nurse is to deliver developmentally-appropriate patient-centered care,” said Derouin. “Pediatric nurses truly understand that kids of different ages have different developmental abilities and skills, which is imperative for ensuring proper care delivery.”
It’s important for pediatric nurses to understand the particular needs of children and how those needs change throughout each developmental stage (e.g., infancy, toddlerhood, preschool age, etc.). Additionally, being able to communicate appropriately with children and their guardians is a key part of the pediatric nurse’s job. They also need to know how to ask patients of various ages questions about their health in order to gather complete and accurate information to aid in diagnosis and treatment.
“I think of pediatric nurses as having the unique gifts and talents of being extremely flexible and adaptable,” said Derouin. “For example, you may be taking care of an infant in one room, an eight-year-old in another room and a teenager in the third room, so you have to be able to quickly shift your thinking based on your patient’s age and specific needs.”
Because pediatric nurses work with children who may not understand their symptoms or be able to communicate how they are feeling, it’s also important for pediatric nurses to have critical assessment skills and be extremely astute in noticing subtle changes in patients.
“When infants' heart rates change even just a little bit, it can have a dramatic impact on their health status, so pediatric nurses need to be able to detect even the smallest changes in symptoms, health or pain, and to know when action is necessary,” said Derouin. “Pediatric nurses should assess their pediatric patients as unique individuals, as their treatment depends heavily on their age, weight and specific condition.”
According to Derouin, equally as important is the pediatric nurse’s ability to work collaboratively at all times with the patient’s family, as nurses in this field generally have much more contact with patient family members than other nurses due to the young age of their patients.
“Pediatric nurses recognize family members as crucial members of the child’s recovery process,” said Derouin. “In that sense, the care provided by pediatric nurses is really twofold because you not only have to provide care, support and education to your patients, but also to your patients’ parents and/or guardians.”
Throughout the entire process of care delivery, pediatric nurses play an important role in supporting young patients and their families by explaining patients’ conditions, treatment options and providing emotional support for the patient’s family. Pediatric nurses can help provide complete and unbiased information between the family and healthcare team, while also facilitating and supporting the family with decisions regarding care.
“Pediatric nursing can be a very challenging career, yet it is one of the most fulfilling, joyful and miraculous specialties of nursing that you could ever work in,” said Derouin. "Children are so resilient and joyful, even in the most unfortunate situations. There are valuable life lessons you can learn by working with children.”
For more information about pediatric nursing, visit www.discovernursing.com.