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Although pediatricians and pediatric nurses both specialize in the care of children from infancy to early adulthood and both are health professionals, the similarities end there. Pediatricians and nurses have different education paths, incomes and responsibilities – the two professions have a different scope of practice.
A pediatrician is a physician whose specialty is to care for children from infancy until the age of 18. Pediatricians begin their education in college, and subsequently enter medical school. A graduate physician must spend a minimum of four years in a residency program after medical school. Medical education takes a minimum of 12 years and may take longer, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pediatricians must be licensed to practice in all states, and although certification is optional, most choose to become certified because some employers and insurance companies require certification. Continuing education is required to maintain certification, and the pediatrician must recertify every five years.
A pediatric nurse also requires a license to practice. They can either earn an associate degree, a nursing diploma or a four-year baccalaureate degree. Although many professional organizations now recommend the baccalaureate as the best choice, a nurse may take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam with any of the three. Certification is optional for nurses, although some employers may prefer or require it. A pediatric nurse must recertify periodically, according to Explore Health Careers, by completing continuing education or retaking the certification exam.
One difference between a pediatrician and a pediatric nurse is the length of education. Even if a nurse pursues a doctorate, it is highly unlikely that they will spend 12 years in school as a physician does. Another difference between a pediatrician and a nurse is the scope of practice. A pediatrician directs patient care, and may perform major surgery, prescribe medications and order diagnostic tests. A pediatric nurse provides nursing care, which may include the administration of medication a physician has ordered. According to the BLS, salaries are dramatically different. In 2016, pediatric nurses start at an average salary of $72,180 depending on their level of education, while pediatricians earn $184, 240.
Although physicians and nurses may study the same subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry and pharmacology – physicians tend to study these subjects in greater depth. A physician’s focus is on treatment, while a nurse’s focus is on patient care aspects such as comfort and daily management. Both professionals follow a code of ethics and have specific legal responsibilities such as reporting child abuse, and may be an employee of a hospital or health care organization, although physicians may also have a private practice.
Pediatricians, like most physicians, are more likely to graduate with considerable educational debt. A pediatrics registered nurse doesn’t usually have the same demands on her time and is likely to work fewer hours, although she may be required to work night shifts, weekends and holidays. A pediatrician and pediatrician nurse must have personable qualities such as compassion and the ability to build rapport with children and parents.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Akron Children’s Hospital: What it’s Like To Be a Pediatrician? A Q & A with Dr. Robert Stone
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- Explore Health Careers: Pediatric Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2016 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.
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