Of all things pediatric nurses might have in common – the education, experience, and common patient group – what really knits this group together is one thing, says Shirley Wiggins, PhD, RN, president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses.
“I have to say we look at this as our passion where others might see it as a challenge,” she says. “Integrating the care of the child and family is our passion.”
In fact, at a recent meeting Wiggins asked what brought the nurses in attendance to the pediatric nursing field, and many nurses reported that they decided on pediatric nursing fairly early on.
What does it mean to be a pediatric nurse? “The whole emphasis on the Institute of Medicine’s patient centeredness is what pediatric nursing is,” says Wiggins. “It’s what we love to do, and it’s what keeps us there.”
Pediatric nursing works with an age range of patients that encompasses newborn babies all the way to the young adults of 18 years of age, so centering care on the patient means taking in a broad cognitive and physical spectrum. “The approach is developmental and we focus on that child and where they are,” says Wiggins. With all work done within the network of the family, pediatric nurses recognize that patient support comes in all manner of people – from the parents of an infant to the close friends of a teenager.
There are currently more than 180,000 professional registered pediatric nurses providing care, in various settings including home care, ambulatory clinics, schools, public health, colleges of nursing, hospice and palliative care, says Wiggins.
And Wiggins says pediatric nurses, who are often seen as working with the more vulnerable age groups, are amazed at the resilience of children. “There is great strength in children,” she says. Pairing that show of strength with a love of fun and goofiness lends to a very unique workday for most pediatric nurses.
“We all laugh because there are aspects of pediatric nursing that are really fun,” says Wiggins. In the seriousness of the work they are doing, they can’t forget to add the whimsy that kids often love – whether that’s cat’s ears at Halloween or singing familiar songs with the kids.
And a team approach to nursing children is essential, says Wiggins. Teams of medical personnel and child life specialists offer the support the child and the child’s family need. Wiggins says a good pediatric nurse has the same qualities that make any nurse exceptional. “Be the one that asks questions and sees issues and wants to make it better,” she says. “There’s lots of good communication when we work with others and in the Society of Pediatric Nurses we look at evidence-based standards in pediatric nursing with discussion boards and communication that looks at substantiating what we do.”
Wiggins herself said she knew during her nursing student days that this was going to be her direction. Even at the end of a challenging day in clinical, she thought of what she needed to do to be able to do have days like that for the rest of her career. “It didn’t feel like work,” she says. “It was an opportunity.”
And, yes, pediatric nurses are in a field that could make them prone to compassion fatigue because of the heartbreak they encounter routinely. When nurses mention things only another nurse would understand, pediatric nurses share a special bond of caring for ill children, some of whom do not recover. Because of that, there are lots of protections and processes in place for pediatric nurses to help manage the emotional fallout that can happen and to keep them close to other pediatric nurses who have almost all experienced similar joys and sorrows.
Wiggins points to the DAISY Foundation awards, which recognizes outstanding nurses and the “super-human” work they do with patients and families in difficult times. The awards can help acknowledge that nurses struggle with emotions right alongside families and patients they care for.
If pediatric nursing is something that intrigues you, it’s worth looking into getting some first-hand experience to see if it’s a good fit.