What Are the Differences Between a Pediatrician & a Pediatric Nurse?

by Beth Greenwood

Pediatricians and pediatric nurses both specialize in the care of children from birth to age 18 and both are health professionals, but the similarities end there. Physicians and nurses are educated differently, paid differently and have different responsibilities. Each has a different scope of practice and the two professions are not the same.


A pediatrician is a physician whose specialty is the care of children from birth to the age of 18. Pediatricians begin their education in college, after which they 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, according to the BLS, and although certification is optional, most choose to become certified, as some employers and insurance companies require certification. Continuing education is required to maintain certification, and the pediatrician must recertify every five years.

Pediatric Nurse

A pediatric nurse also requires a license to practice. She has three options for basic schooling, according to the BLS. An associate degree takes two years, while a nursing diploma can be completed in two or three years, depending on the program. A four-year baccalaureate degree is also an option. Many professional organizations now recommend the baccalaureate as the best choice, although 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.


Length of education is one of the differences between a pediatrician and a pediatric nurse. Even if the nurse goes on for a doctorate, she is unlikely to spend 12 years in school as a physician does. Another difference is the scope of practice. Physicians direct patient care. They may perform invasive procedures such as 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. Salaries are dramatically different, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. RNs earned an average annual salary of $67,930 in 2012, while pediatricians earned $167,640.

Some Similarities

Physicians and nurses may study the same subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry and pharmacology. Physicians tend to study these subjects in greater depth than nurses, however. Although both study disease processes and causes, the physician’s focus is on treatment, while the 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. Either may be an employee of a hospital or health care organization, although physicians may also be in private practice.

Other Considerations

If you love children and want to help them get well or stay healthy, a career in pediatrics might be a good choice. You’ll need more education to become a pediatrician and you will have much greater responsibility, but you will also earn more. Pediatricians, like most physicians, are also more likely to graduate with considerable educational debt. A pediatrics RN 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. Either must have personal qualities such as compassion, attention to detail and the ability to build rapport with children and parents.

About the Author

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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