How To Earn Your Pediatric Nursing Certification
By Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC
Pediatric nursing can be a satisfying career path. Some pediatric nurses choose national certification in order to earn more money, receive bonuses, and gain a competitive edge in the job market. Certification validates a nurse’s expertise, knowledge, and critical thinking skills.
- What is a pediatric nursing certification?
- Pediatric nursing certification is a specialty certification for nurses in pediatrics who show an advanced level of knowledge and skill in this area.
- Who should get certified?
- Pediatric nurses that meet eligibility requirements should consider becoming certified. In fact, most employers will reimburse the cost of the certification exam once passed.
- What certifications are offered to pediatric nurses?
- Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
- Registered Nurse-Board Certified Pediatric (RN-BC)
- Registered Nurse- Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC)
- Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
- Is this a state-specific certification?
- No! This is a national certification and requirements are the same regardless of the state of practice.
- Why should you get certified?
- In nursing, certification means that you have achieved a higher level of skill and understanding in your specialty. Specific reasons certification is important include,
- Increase pay
- Enhanced career mobility
- Continuing education support
- Recognition of clinical expertise
- Dedication to career advancement
- Access to member-specific nursing organizations
- Personal growth and satisfaction
- Increased confidence in delivered care
- Access to national conferences
- Professional networking
- Commitment to the nursing profession
Who Offers Pediatric Nursing Certification?
Three organizations offer pediatric nurse certification:
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PCNB)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- National Certification Corporation (NCC)
Each has an exam, requirements for recertification, and exam eligibility criteria.
Main Differences: CPN, RN-BC, RNC-NIC, CCRN
While most pediatric nurses are eligible to sit for the RN-BC and CPN, the (CPN) seems to be favored for a variety of reasons. A few of the main reasons include:
- Cost of the exam
- CPN is endorsed by the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN) while the RN-BC is not
- CPN has created the Institute of Pediatric Nursing to encourage students to choose pediatrics
- CPN attends national and select local conferences
- More support for CPN certification
The CCRN and RNC-NIC are more specific and only certain pediatric nurses will be eligible.
To find out specifics about each exam, see the comprehensive breakdown below.
Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
The PNCB oversees the CPN examination and certification. To be eligible to sit for the exam, nurses must have the following:
- A current, valid, and unrestricted RN license in the U.S., Canada, or territory
- A minimum of 1800 hours of pediatric clinical experience completed within the past 24 months as an RN, or
- A minimum of 5 years as an RN in pediatric nursing and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing within the last 5 years, with a minimum of 1000 hours within the past 24 months (only if unable to meet the above option)
Clinical Practice hours can include direct patient care, management, education and/or consultation.
The CPN exam is not specifically designed for hospital nurses. Other eligible clinical experience can include,
- Ambulatory care
- School-based nursing
- Home health
- Clinical research
- Public health
Nurses with a diploma, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate in nursing are all eligible to sit for the examination.
The CPN certification is nationally recognized for Magnet designation, which makes this one of the most appealing pediatric certifications for hospitals. As of December 2018, there are 29,216 nurses that hold their CPN certification.
Currently, the CPN exam costs $295 including a $100 non-refundable registration fee. Once registered, there is a 90-day window to complete or pay $130 for a one-time extension.
The exam is 3 hours long and consists of 175 multiple choice questions. Unlike the NCLEX, this exam requires individuals to complete all 175 questions in the alloted time.
Test-takers will know immediately following the exam if they passed or failed, and official results are mailed out 2-3 weeks after completion of the exam.
The PNCB website is a valuable resource for additional information concerning the exam, including costs, renewal fees, contact hours, and review courses.
Registered Nurse-Board Certified Pediatric (RN-BC)
The American Nurses Credentialing Center pediatric nursing board certification examination is a competency-based examination.
To be eligible to sit for the RN-BC exam, nurses must meet the following criteria:
- 2 years full-time practice as a registered nurse
- A minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in the specialty area of pediatric nursing within the last 3 years
- 30 hours of continuing education in pediatric nursing within the last 3 years
Practice hours can only include direct bedside care or direct clinical supervision. The RN-BC is very strict and requires documentation of hours. For this reason, hospital-based nurses are more likely to earn this certification.
The ANCC is designed to promote excellence in nursing through certification. The RN-BC certification is also recognized for Magnet designation and is primarily held by hospital-based pediatric nurses.
As of October 24, 2019 the exam with be 3 hours and consist of 150 questions including 25 that are pretest questions that are not scored. Similar to the CPN, all questions must be completed prior to exiting the exam.
Prior to October 24, the RN-BC exam allows 3.5 hours to answer 175 questions with 150 scored plus 25 pretest questions that are not scored.
The exam costs $395 for initial certification including $140 non-refundable registration fee. There is a discount for American Nurses Association members. A 90 day window is given to take the exam after registration.
As of December 2018, there are only 2,302 nurses that hold their RN-BC certification.
Registered Nurse - Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC)
The National Certification Corporation developed the RNC-NIC specifically for neonatal intensive care nurses. Nurses who work in a Level 3 or Level 4 NICU would be eligible to sit for this exam.
To be eligible for the exam, individuals must meet the following criteria,
- Current licensure as an RN
- 24 months of specialty experience as a U.S. or Canadian RN comprised of a minimum of 2000 hours (this must have occurred sometime in your career).
- Specialty experience can be comprised of direct patient care, education, administration or research.
- Employment in the specialty sometime in the last 24 months.
- Both practice time and hours must be met. This is not an either/or criterion.
The exam is $325 with a $75 non-refundable registration fee. There is a 90 day window to take the exam and official results are mailed 21 days after completion of the computer based exam. Individuals that can not take the exam during the window or miss their test time, can pay $125 for a one time test extension.
The exam is 3 hours and consists of 175 questions with 25 being unscored pretest questions.
Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
The American Nurses Credentialing Center developed a speciality examination for critical care nurses. There are TWO versions of the exam. There is a pediatric AND a neonatal exam. The same requirements are for both exams.
To be eligible to sit for the CCRN exam, nurses must meet the following criteria:
- Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill pediatric patients during the previous two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application OR
- Practice as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill pediatric patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application
According to the CCRN website, eligible clinical practice hours include:
- Must be completed in a U.S.-based or Canada-based facility or in a facility determined to be comparable to the U.S. standard of acute/critical care nursing practice.
- Are spent actively providing direct care to acutely/critically ill pediatric patients or spent supervising nurses or nursing students at the bedside of acutely/critically ill pediatric patients, if working as a manager, educator, preceptor or APRN. The majority of practice hours for exam eligibility must be focused on critically ill patients.
- Are verifiable by your clinical supervisor or professional colleague (RN or physician). Contact information must be provided for verification of eligibility related to clinical hours, to be used if you are selected for audit.
Nurses that work in intensive care units, cardiac care units, combined ICU/CCUs, medical/surgical ICUs, trauma units or critical care transport/flight are eligible to take the exam. If you are unsure if your unit qualifies, discuss the requirements with your unit nurse educator or nurse manager.
The exam is $344 and individuals are given a 90 day window to schedule the exam at an ANCC approved center. There are over 300 in the country. Depending on your location, you may have to travel to the closest center. You do not have to take the exam in your home state. This is a national certification and not state specific.
Pediatric Nurse Salary Data
According to Payscale.com, the median hourly wage for a pediatric nurse is $26.62, and the median annual salary is $57,000. Nurses in pediatric ICU are noted to earn 34% more than the national average, whereas those in NICU earn only 4% above average.
There is no available data on increased salary after certification, although higher earnings are assumed to be the optimal result of certification. Most hospitals have a tier system and nurses with certification are able to move up the tiers quicker, thus resulting in a higher salary.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse - Pediatric Certifications (APRN)
In addition to the two general certifications for RNs outlined above, there are other specialized pediatric certifications for advanced practice nurses:
- Certified Registered Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Acute Care (CRPNP-AC)
- Certified Registered Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Primary Care (CRPNP-PC)
- Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS)
- Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (PCNS-BC)
Unlike the previous certifications, the advanced practice certifications require additional schooling and a Master’s of Science degree in Nursing (MSN). These degrees can be completed in two to three years and then require a national certification exam to earn your APRN certification.
Why Become Certified?
There are many reasons to become certified. Here are some to seriously consider:
- Higher wages
- Enhanced career mobility
- Continuing education support
- Recognition of validated expertise
- Provision of enhanced patient care
- Commitment and dedication to career advancement
- Personal growth and satisfaction
- Access to member specific organizations
- Networking opportunities
- Dedication to quality and safety of patient care
- Strengthened confidence in clinical abilities
Regardless of the pediatric certification obtained, becoming certified carries a strong sense of professional pride. It indicates that you have a specialty knowledge beyond RN licensure. Board certification is recognized by employers, colleagues, as well as patients and their families.