But pediatric nursing also offers opportunities to use cutting-edge data, equipment, and processes that advance her day-to-day nursing practices. Dr. Lewis, who is a member of the Society of Pediatric Nurses’Board of Directors, also finds pediatric nursing provides pathways to pursue her professional interests including pediatric hospital medicine, quality improvement, instructional design, and initiatives that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. She shared some of her thoughts about a career in pediatric nursing in time for the annual celebration of Pediatric Nurses Week which runs from October 2 to 6.
Please tell Minority Nurse a bit about yourself. I completed my undergraduate nursing studies at Gardner-Webb University in 2008 and earned my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at the Medical University of South Carolina in 2015. Additionally, I completed post-graduate studies in pediatric acute care at the University of South Alabama and completed the Advanced Practice Provider fellowship offered by Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2019.
I have over 17 years of nursing experience and hold multiple national certifications in pediatric emergency, critical care, and mental health specialties as well as in nursing didactic and clinical education and vascular access. Personally, I enjoy reading, weightlifting, yin yoga, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.
How did you find your career path to pediatric nursing and what makes it rewarding? I was drawn in by the ethical maxims and caring science of the nursing profession and by the opportunity that it offers to interface with children and their families in a way that makes a positive difference. It is most rewarding to see and know that your actions, as a pediatric nurse, have contributed to the healing of a patient and family. A career in pediatric nursing has also afforded me opportunities to work across the country and overseas; to learn and work with brilliant intra- and interdisciplinary colleagues; to advance professionally; and to grow personally.
You work with a fragile population and their families. What nursing skills do you rely on most heavily? I rely most heavily on my ability to assess patients and families, the process of gathering data using senses. Many of the patients I care for, due to developmental or health-related considerations or other barriers, are unable to communicate using words. Receptivity to and accurate processing of body language, paralanguage, and other signs and symptoms that patients and families consciously or unconsciously share are the foundational of most successful outcomes.
Why is it so essential to have a diverse representation of nurses in pediatric nursing? Person-centered care focuses on the individual within multiple interwoven and complicated contexts. Foundational to person-centered care is respect for diversity, differences, preferences, values, needs, resources, and the determinants of health unique to the individual. Inclusivity and representation are essential to providing person-centered care to increasingly diverse populations, care that requires seeking to understand the totality of the individual’s lived experiences and connections to others.
Diverse representation is the only means by which we can create healthcare systems that empower individuals to make informed decisions about health maintenance and illness and injury prevention behaviors within the context of their own cultures; systems that recognize and value the undeniable influence of culture on the biology, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of patient populations and healthcare delivery alike.
What kinds of technological or medical advances have you seen in your career and what do you expect will develop in the future? As advances in portable and wireless technologies have developed and expanded, so has the provision of home health and telehealth services. These advances have expanded the reach of healthcare providers and services, making some forms of care and treatment more accessible and conducive to improving the quality of life of patients and families. It will be interesting to witness the evolution of artificial intelligence and its application in the detection and diagnosis of disease, as well as its role in information generation and sharing.
What would you like readers to know about pediatric nursing? The nursing profession is facing some longstanding and unprecedented challenges; pediatric nursing is not immune to those challenges. Every challenge, however, presents an opportunity for growth. Child health is the foundation of health and well-being for societies. Pediatric nurses are uniquely poised to lead the charge in reshaping healthcare systems across all care settings and levels of impact.
If a career in pediatric nursing interests you, now is a good time to explore this option.
As Pediatric Nurses Week wraps up, there’s reflection on how this field impacts the youngest patients and their families. If you are a dedicated lifelong learner, pediatric nursing is an excellent specialty. The advances in childhood diseases—from childhood cancer to flu responses in children—are rapid and ever changing.
As a nurse who works in pediatrics, you’ll need to be on top of all these developments so you know the latest information to help your patients. And because families have such frequent interaction with pediatric nurses, you’re also seen as a reliable and important resource for questions about the smallest diaper rash to the most severe injury or illness.
The Society of Pediatric Nurses offers information about the career for those who have been in practice for decades and for those who are just considering the path. The Institute of Pediatric Nursing, “an estimated 180,521 RNs provide patient care in a hospital setting to a pediatric population, including newborn, neonatal, pediatric, and adolescent.”
These nurses provide care in various settings that might include physicians’ offices, hospitals, home care, schools, outpatient, and ambulatory care settings. With each setting comes a different set of responsibilities and levels of interaction. Where some offices might provide more routine well-child care others, like school nurses, will have a different kind of care routine.
As a pediatric nurse, you’ll be a registered nurse, but can also continue on to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. Certification is, as always, an important option to consider in this career, just to keep up with all the developments in newborn to adolescent health. The credential is a Pediatric Nursing Certification (RN-BC).
As the populations in the country continue to change, minority pediatric nurses are an essential component in the health of children. Whether in a rural or urban setting, nurses that look like the children and families in their patient population, speak their language, and know their culture, beliefs, and traditions (especially those surrounding health and medical care) will have a positive impact on understanding and follow up care.
As more minority nurses continue on to earn a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, the opportunities for having a greater impact on patient populations and the nursing industry as a whole is more significant. Nurses are excellent gauges of shifting health issues within their patient populations and can help advance critical early notifications of anything from vaccine compliance of newborns to vaping use in adolescence.
If a pediatric nursing career interests you, your advisor is a first stop for information. If you’re already a pediatric nurse, take some time to reflect on the patients and families you have made an impact on.
From October 1 to 5, pediatric nurses are honored for the work they do with the children in their care. This is also a time to recognize the undeniable ripple effect that happens with the care pediatric nurses give. While they might provide treatment and care directly to their young patients, they are also impacting the families of those little ones and even the larger community they belong to.
Each pediatric nurse who offers empathy, caring, education, and compassion to the families of pediatric patients helps them get through what is likely a trying time. In turn, that also helps community members who rally around the children and their families, including extended family, school friends, and faith community members.
Often pediatric nurses spend considerable amounts of time with the families of the children and infants they care for. These are excellent opportunities to help educate families about a diagnosis, treatment, continuing care at home, and expected prognosis. As an expert, families will look to you, so it’s important to honor that trust, but it’s a fine line. If you feel families could use some additional emotional support or additional resources, you can help turn them in the right direction. It’s a good idea for your team to have that information ready if it’s something that might be needed.
A pediatric nurse often forms strong, life-long bonds with some patients. Depending on the circumstances and how often nurses interact with the same patients, they will often find themselves in contact with those whose lives they had such a powerful impact on.
As a pediatric nurse, each of your actions can leave an indelible impression. Your goofy impressions, your colorful tops, your cheerful songs, and your calm manner can all give pediatric patients a courage to get through a scary time. Pediatric nurses can also help their patients understand that trips to hospitals, physicians’ offices, or healthcare centers aren’t necessarily fun, but they certainly are a place where kids are welcomed, cared for, and helped to feel better.
Because pediatric nurses care for children, they have to be especially careful to take care of themselves in their personal and professional lives. It is heartbreaking to see young children who are very ill or who are in pain. It is devastating when they die. Pediatric nurses must be able to call on special reserves of dedication and self-care to deal with the grief that can be a natural part of their job. Developing relationships with mentors or with other pediatric nurses can help nurses deal with feelings that might come up.
If you are a pediatric nurse, congratulations for all you do to help children. If you have a pediatric nurse in you life, offer a heartfelt thanks for the care they give.
When nurses think of going into pediatric nursing, they often think of working with a specific age in the wide range of newborn baby to 18-year-old young adult. But what many might not realize is how working with a child also includes working closely with a family as well. In fact, when pediatric nurses think of caring for a patient, they consider the care of the family as part of the whole child, says Shirley Wiggins, PhD, RN, president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses.
As families have evolved to range from the traditional family of a mom and dad with kids, today’s family structure takes on a whole new shape. It can include same gender parents, grandparents as primary caregivers, parents living together or apart, foster parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even close friends who comprise the family unit.
So while pediatric nurses tend to the needs of the child, they also remain mindful of the emotions and experiences of the child’s family. “Education is a critical point with families, and it’s what they need,” says Wiggins. But not all families are ready for specific information at the same time. A pediatric nurse’s job includes being able to read a family’s readiness. “What is the capacity of that child and that family both developmentally and at that time,” says Wiggins.
When families have information, they can help support the child even more, and pediatric nurses are there to help them through that process. “You see how powerful the family is in our society,” says Wiggins. “In difficult times, you see how amazing they are. They dig deep.”
Although Wiggins says many pediatric nurses come right from nursing school, there are many who choose the field during a mid-career change. Wiggins says it’s often the call of working with children and in partnership with families that draw nurses in. “Sometimes what drives it is they encounter a family and a child speaks to them,” she says.
Wiggins says no matter where you are coming from in your career, it helps to have an open mind when you think about how you would fit into a pediatric nursing position. “Be open to the that fact that each family is unique,” she says. “Be flexible to just listen.” Families and children often come as one unit, so pediatric nurses see the whole picture.
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.
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