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Pediatric Nurse Practitioner vs. Pediatrician: Differences & Similarities


Children thrive with regular attention to their health and development: timely immunizations, preventive care, and careful diagnoses and treatment plans. Proper care is especially crucial when children are too young to speak for themselves.


Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) and pediatricians are medical professionals who work exclusively with children, ranging from infants through age 18. While PNPs and pediatricians both treat infants, children, and teens, their roles differ in responsibility and scope.


Those interested in working with pediatric patients are likely to have questions about the differences between the two careers, including education requirements, salary, and job outlook. Depending on a current or aspiring healthcare professional’s career goals, they may be considering whether they should pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or Doctor of Medicine (MD). Understanding the difference between pediatricians and PNPs can help them make an informed decision for taking that step.

Definitions: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner vs. Pediatrician

PNPs and pediatricians may appear to have similar responsibilities; nonetheless, they have distinct roles in the medical field.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

What does a PNP do? PNPs are nurse practitioners whose patients are children. Unlike registered nurses, nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat various illnesses. Some typical responsibilities of PNPs include:


  • Consulting patient charts and health data
  • Performing medical exams
  • Administering medicine to patients and treating illnesses
  • Ordering and interpreting laboratory and diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medication and establishing treatment plans


PNPs can work in specializations such as pediatric oncology, intensive care units, and developmental disability organizations. PNPs earned a median annual salary of about $95,000 as of August 2022, according to PayScale. The median annual salary for all types of nurse practitioners was $120,680 as of May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


Pediatricians are medical doctors who are authorized to diagnose and treat illnesses in children. Typical responsibilities of pediatricians include:


  • Interpreting patient charts and health data
  • Prescribing medications and vaccines
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses
  • Performing surgery
  • Researching the latest breakthroughs and treatments


Pediatricians work in clinics, medical centers, hospitals, and children’s hospitals. They can specialize in neonatal (infant) care, pediatric endocrinology (disorders related to hormones and growth), and many other types of care.


Pediatricians earned a median annual salary of $198,420 as of May 2021, according to the BLS.

Similarities Between Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and Pediatricians

PNPs and pediatricians are licensed medical professionals responsible for their young patients’ health. Their foundational education is similar: Both study anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and pharmacology in their degree programs.


PNPs and pediatricians each follow a code of ethics and have specific legal obligations pertaining to children’s health. Both positions require certifications and often require a process of recertification in specific areas to continue their work. PNPs and pediatricians both diagnose and treat children’s illnesses.


Other than these similarities, the amount of responsibility and types of specializations of these two positions vary.

Differences Between Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and Pediatricians

Pediatricians are physicians. When it comes to medical authority and expertise, pediatricians are delegated the highest authority, directing patient care and often performing surgery.


On the other hand, PNPs more closely resemble family nurse practitioners: Their primary responsibility is nursing care, including conducting medical exams or overseeing a child’s immunizations.


PNPs don’t perform certain duties of a pediatrician, such as surgery. While pediatricians are always permitted to prescribe medications, some pediatric nurse practitioners have limited prescribing authority, requiring oversight from a medical doctor. The scope of a PNP’s practice authority depends on the state in which they’re licensed.


In addition to the salary variations noted above, the job outlook for PNPs versus pediatricians is different. While the BLS projects employment of pediatricians to decline by 2% between 2020 and 2030, employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow by a massive 52%, making NPs some of the most in-demand professionals.

Requirements for Becoming a PNP

Becoming a PNP requires first being a registered nurse (RN). RNs seeking to advance their careers should know that PNP positions require the following:


  • A graduate degree in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice — includes clinical practice hours, typically takes two to four years after earning a bachelor’s degree
  • Certification granted through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) — required in most states
  • Nurse practitioner licensure specific to the state in which the PNP will practice


Employers advise aspiring nurse practitioners to gain some experience in nursing before beginning their advanced degrees. Experience and education will make applicants more competitive when applying for PNP positions.

Requirements for Becoming a Pediatrician

Pursuing a career as a pediatrician requires significantly more education and professional experience than a career as a PNP. The pediatrician career path requires the following:


  • A Doctor of Medicine degree — includes clinical rotations, typically takes four years after earning a bachelor’s degree
  • Residency in a hospital or clinic — lasts three to nine years
  • The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
  • A state license, with requirements varying by state
  • Certification from the American Board of Pediatrics — not mandatory but greatly increases job prospects for pediatricians

Choosing the Nursing Career That’s Right for You

Working in children’s medicine is a noble and rewarding career. If you’re considering whether to pursue a career as a PNP or pediatrician, let your career goals and timeline inform your next step.


If you’re a current RN or about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, review graduate programs that offer a PNP concentration, such as the online Doctor of Nursing Practice, Master of Science in Nursing, and post-master’s NP certification online at Maryville University.


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