Title: Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse: A Rewarding and Challenging Career (2023)


Welcome to our comprehensive guide to becoming a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse (PICU). In this article, we will explore the critical role of PICU nurses, the requirements to excel in this field, and the fulfilling rewards it offers. Whether you are a nursing student, a healthcare professional considering a career change, or simply interested in the world of pediatric nursing, this guide will provide you with valuable insights into the world of PICU nursing.

What Does a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse Do?

PICU nurses play a vital role in caring for children under the age of 18 who require intensive medical attention. They provide specialized care, support, and education to both patients and their families. Working closely with nurse practitioners and physicians, PICU nurses monitor patients using advanced equipment, administer specialized medication and treatments, and ensure accurate and updated medical records.

Key Responsibilities

  1. Monitoring patients using advanced equipment: PICU nurses are responsible for closely monitoring patients' vital signs, administering medication, and promptly alerting healthcare professionals about any significant changes in their condition.

  2. Administering specialized medication and treatments: PICU nurses possess the expertise to administer specialized medications and treatments tailored to each patient's needs. They ensure the safe and effective delivery of care.

  3. Using medical equipment: PICU nurses are proficient in utilizing medical equipment such as feeding tubes and catheters to provide optimal care for their patients.

  4. Keeping medical records complete and updated: Accurate documentation is crucial in healthcare. PICU nurses meticulously maintain medical records, ensuring that they are complete, up-to-date, and readily accessible to the healthcare team.

Career Traits

PICU nursing requires a unique set of skills and qualities. Successful PICU nurses possess the following traits:

  1. Extremely detail-oriented: Attention to detail is crucial in PICU nursing to ensure accurate monitoring and administration of medication and treatments.

  2. Able to analyze, decide, and act quickly: PICU nurses must make critical decisions promptly and act swiftly in emergency situations.

  3. Strong collaboration skills: Effective collaboration with colleagues at all levels is essential for providing comprehensive care to patients in the PICU.

  4. Able to manage stress under demanding conditions: PICU nursing can be emotionally and physically challenging. The ability to manage stress is vital to ensure optimal patient care.

  5. Effective communication skills: PICU nurses must communicate effectively with worried parents, guardians, and family members, providing them with emotional support and clear explanations of the patient's condition.

Where Do Pediatric Intensive Care Nurses Work?

PICU nurses work primarily in general hospitals, specialty hospitals, or specialized departments. They may also work in different levels of PICUs, including community-based, tertiary, and quaternary PICUs.

  1. General Hospitals: Most PICU nurses work in dedicated units within general hospitals. These units are designed to provide specialized care for children, with equipment tailored to their smaller size and comfort. Some PICU nurses also work in general ICU units, requiring adaptability to different patient populations.

  2. Pediatric Hospitals: In pediatric hospitals, PICU nurses care for a wide range of pediatric patients, including those with chronic conditions, acute illnesses, and emergencies. These hospitals are entirely dedicated to pediatric care, creating an environment that prioritizes the unique needs of children.

  3. Pediatric Specialty Hospitals or Departments: Some PICU nurses work in specialized functions or hospitals, such as cardiovascular, neurocritical, or organ transplant facilities. These specialized facilities often cater to patients from a broader geographic region, across the country, or even internationally.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Becoming a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse

Becoming a PICU nurse offers both advantages and challenges. Let's explore them:


  1. Low patient-staff ratio: PICU nurses typically have a lower patient-staff ratio, allowing for more focused and personalized care.

  2. Rewarding impact on young lives: Saving young lives or improving the quality of life for pediatric patients can be incredibly fulfilling.

  3. Collaborative teamwork: PICU nurses work as part of a dedicated team focused on delivering exceptional care to children.

  4. Faster emotional rewards: Children often recover more quickly than adults, providing PICU nurses with the gratification of seeing positive outcomes sooner.

  5. Grateful families: Family members are typically appreciative of the care provided by PICU nurses, expressing their gratitude and thanks.


  1. Emotional strain: Caring for children with serious health conditions or injuries can be emotionally challenging and may take a toll on PICU nurses.

  2. Child abuse cases: PICU nurses may encounter survivors of child abuse, adding another layer of emotional strain to their work.

  3. Communication difficulties: Communicating with preverbal or non-fluent children can present challenges for PICU nurses, requiring alternative methods of understanding their needs.

  4. Challenging family dynamics: Family members may experience frustration, helplessness, and fear, which may be directed towards the nursing staff.

How to Become a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse

To pursue a career as a PICU nurse, there are several paths you can take:

  1. Education: You can start as an entry-level PICU nurse with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) after completing two years of college. However, many employers prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which takes four years to complete.

  2. Licensure: After earning your degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (RNs) and obtain an RN license.

  3. Certification: Once you have gained experience as a PICU nurse, you may consider earning certifications to further enhance your skills and career prospects. The critical care registered nurse pediatric credential from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses is a popular choice.

Salary Overview

While specific salary data for PICU nurses is limited, Payscale reports an average annual salary of $81,460 and an hourly salary of $32.60 as of December 2022. Factors such as geographic location, experience, and certifications can influence PICU nurse salaries.


Becoming a Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse offers a rewarding and fulfilling career path. The role of a PICU nurse is critical in providing specialized care to some of the most vulnerable children in hospitals. By excelling in this unique and demanding field, you can make a positive impact on the lives of young patients and their families. If you are passionate about working in a collaborative team environment, managing challenging situations, and providing empathetic care, a career as a PICU nurse may be the perfect fit for you.

Embrace this rewarding journey, and embark on a path that combines your passion for nursing with the opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of children.

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