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Pediatric Nurse Practitioners: Creating the Future of Pediatric Healthcare

March 2014

There’s no such thing as a “typical day” for pediatric nurse practitioner Anne Pettinger, ARNP, a primary care provider at Pediatrics Northwest, PS, in Federal Way, Wash. During the course of a single day, Pettinger may complete a well baby check-up, diagnose a seven-year-old with a virus, prescribe medications to a teen and treat an 18-year-old home on break from college. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a very exciting time to be a pediatric nurse practitioner," said Pettinger.

In the ever-evolving healthcare landscape, pediatric nurse practitioners play a key role in meeting the growing demand for quality care to children across America. Pediatric nurse practitioners can complement physicians with their unique set of skills, helping make a children’s healthcare team stronger and more effective. Whether primary care providers, specialty care providers, part of a hospital, or in some states, operators of their own practice, pediatric nurse practitioners are leading the way toward a healthier future.

“Pediatric nurse practitioners are extremely well-positioned to provide high-quality care to a diverse population of children with a variety of healthcare needs and challenges,” said Kelly Kirby, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, PCNS-BC, pediatric nurse practitioner in Pediatric Cardiology at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Kirby, who works with physicians and nurse practitioners on the Pediatric Arrhythmia Team, values both the independence and team dynamic of her job. 

“We work as a collaborative team, yet we each have our own, clearly defined role. There is a distinct difference between physician and nurse practitioner training – the difference between the medical and nursing model – and that helps ensure that the care we offer as a team is comprehensive,” said Kirby. “Although we each have different approaches, philosophies and training, we are able to work together to provide effective care for our pediatric population.”

Pediatric nurse practitioners have a vast amount of independence, responsibility and decision-making. Many nurse practitioners begin their careers as nurses, and receive their advanced degree after logging years of clinical experience. Pettinger began her nursing career as a pediatric nurse in the operating room and later moved to the emergency room and Intensive Care Unit (ICU). After several years, she studied to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Although she enjoyed her work as a CNS, she decided to pursue the pediatric nurse practitioner role because she wanted more independence and a role that was more directly involved with patients.

“Becoming a nurse practitioner was a way for me to have more autonomy, however it took some time to adjust from the pediatric nurse role to the pediatric nurse practitioner role,” said Pettinger. “One of the biggest changes was that I was completely independent, and I was responsible for making the final decisions for my patients. They had complete trust in me.”

Similarly, Kirby believes that her first years as a pediatric nurse created a foundation for her success as a pediatric nurse practitioner, giving her a wide breadth of real experiences to draw from and improved confidence. She recommends that if nurses are interested in becoming nurse practitioners, they get as much experience as they can as a nurse.

“It will only strengthen your skills as a nurse practitioner,” said Kirby. “Because of our nursing background and training, I believe that pediatric nurse practitioners can bring a unique perspective of empathy, compassion and holistic patient care to every encounter.”

For both Kirby and Pettinger, working with children is a special privilege.

“Kids have their whole lives in front of them, and you’re helping at the onset,” said Pettinger. “You can really lay the foundation for healthy habits. I’ve been practicing for so long now that I’ve watched some of my patients grow up. I even have former patients who are now parents, bringing their kids to me.”

“Being a pediatric nurse practitioner is very rewarding. It is such an honor to be trusted by families and to have such an important role in the life of a child,” Kirby added.

For more information about pediatric nurse practitioners, visit

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