Children's nursing is a rewarding but demanding career. You'll need to show empathy and sensitivity and have excellent communication skills to succeed

Children's nurses, also known as paediatric nurses, work with children of all ages suffering from many different conditions. They play a key role in assessing the nursing needs of the child, taking into account their medical, social, cultural and family circumstances.

Being able to communicate appropriately with children and their parents or carers is a key part of the job. If working with young children, you will also need to interpret the child's behaviour or reactions to assess them fully, as they won't be able to explain how they're feeling.

You can deliver care in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, homes and in the community and will be part of a team made up of doctors, healthcare assistants, play staff, psychologists and social workers.

Responsibilities

Typical work activities vary according to the role, but may include:

  • assessing, observing and reporting on the condition of patients;
  • preparing patients for operations and procedures;
  • recording pulse, temperature and respiration and keeping accurate records of these observations;
  • setting up drips and blood transfusions;
  • maintaining and checking intravenous infusions;
  • administering drugs and injections;
  • assisting with tests and evaluations;
  • responding quickly to emergencies;
  • explaining treatment and procedures to enable parents/carers to consent to treatment;
  • supporting, advising and educating patients and close relatives;
  • observing strict hygiene and safety rules and ensuring that visitors also observe any rules on the ward or unit;
  • writing reports and updating records before completing a shift.

More senior roles may include:

  • teaching skills to student nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals;
  • organising staff and workload to ensure shift cover, possibly across more than one ward.

Salary

  • The NHS pay structure, called Agenda for Change, has clearly defined pay bands for nurses. Salaries for newly qualified nurses start at £21,692 (Band 5).
  • As you progress, salaries vary depending on the skills you acquire and the responsibilities of your job. Most experienced nurses work in Band 6 or 7, with salaries ranging from £26,041 to £40,964.
  • Additional qualifications and experience may enhance salary and promotion prospects. Extra payments may be available for staff working unsocial hours or in high cost areas. One of the highest paid positions in nursing is as a nurse consultant where salaries start on Band 8a, which ranges from £39,632 to £47,559.

Private nursing offers a range of salaries, and employment can be found in settings such as private hospitals, nursing homes and in patients' own homes.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working patterns typically include unsocial hours, but there may be scope for working more regular hours depending on your role.

Part-time, term-time and job-share arrangements have become more common and career breaks can often be taken. Freelance and agency nursing is a possibility.

What to expect

  • Most work takes place in a hospital (on specialist wards or in units) or in home or community settings. Tasks may involve escorting children between hospital departments or to other hospitals, for example when conducting retrieval or transfer work.
  • Opportunities exist in all major towns and cities, but may be more limited in very rural areas. Some hospitals have specialist units or centres of clinical excellence, where jobs may be specific to the specialist care provided.
  • Nursing can be physically and emotionally demanding and requires the ability to manage stress and help others to manage their own feelings.
  • A uniform and any necessary protective clothing are provided.
  • There may be opportunities to travel overseas for conferences, depending on your job and your employer.

Qualifications

To work as a nurse in the UK, you must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). You need to have completed an accepted pre-registration nursing programme in order to register and these are only run at NMC approved educational institutions (AEIs).

Pre-registration degrees are offered in four branches:

  • adult;
  • children (paediatric);
  • learning disability;
  • mental health.

Half of the programme is based in clinical practice, giving you direct experience of working with patients and families. You could be based within a variety of settings including hospitals, the community, patients' homes and independent organisations.

You may be able to get accreditation of prior learning (APL) if you have a degree in another health-related subject or other practice-based learning. Relevant subjects include life and medical sciences, social work and psychology. Up to 50% of the course can be accredited in this way but you should check with the individual institution. Details of all approved programmes can be found at NMC Approved Programmes.

The NMC states that all nurses must meet their requirements of good health and good character. This doesn't mean you can't have a disability or health condition, just that you must be able to carry out safe and effective practice without supervision. You'll also need to declare any criminal convictions, charges or cautions but a criminal record wouldn't necessarily stop you from working in the NHS.

The NHS provides funding to cover tuition fees for students who are UK residents. Contact your chosen institution to find out if your course is eligible for funding. You may also be entitled to a bursary to help with living costs. More information can be found at NHS Student Bursaries.

For bursary information if you are attending courses in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland see:

Skills

You will need to show:

  • respect, empathy and sensitivity when dealing with patients and their families;
  • communication skills, for listening to patients and explaining treatment plans;
  • the ability to work independently, particularly when based in the community;
  • observational skills;
  • flexibility to deal with a range of patients at one time;
  • teamworking skills, especially for hospital-based work;
  • the ability to work in a fast-paced environment;
  • organisational skills and the ability to manage your time and workload effectively;
  • emotional resilience and stamina to deal with patients under difficult circumstances.

Work experience

Although not essential, pre-entry experience is valuable as it provides an insight into the profession and shows universities and NHS Trusts that you understand what the career involves.

Voluntary work for your local NHS Trust or St John Ambulance is useful, as is experience working as a healthcare assistant. Experience of care work or other work with children is also useful.

Employers

Many children's nurses work in NHS hospitals. Others are employed in:

  • general practice (GP) practices, as specialists in child health;
  • day care centres, child health clinics and school health education units;
  • travel companies/holiday resorts;
  • nursing agencies;
  • private healthcare organisations;
  • patients' homes;
  • charities and voluntary organisations.

The majority of sick children are cared for at home by their families with the support of a community nursing team. It's possible to be based totally in the community with a specialism such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes or asthma. As in other branches of nursing, care is becoming more community based.

Look for job vacancies at:

You could also check the websites of medical charities and private healthcare companies. There are many specialist nursing agencies, such as Pulse, that recruit for both permanent and temporary positions. For a searchable directory of agencies, see the Nursing Agencies List.

Professional development

You must be registered with the NMC in order to practice as a nurse in the UK. This registration has to be renewed every three years and to do this you need to show you've met revalidation requirements within that time. The requirements include:

  • 450 practice hours, which can be made up of providing direct care to patients, managing teams, teaching others or running a care service;
  • 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD), including 20 hours of participatory learning;
  • five pieces of practice-related feedback;
  • five written reflective accounts;
  • reflective discussion;
  • health and character declaration;
  • professional indemnity arrangement.

CPD participatory learning must involve interaction with at least one other professional and can include attending conferences, workshops or relevant training courses and events. Find out more at NMC Revalidation.

It's possible to take courses of differing lengths in a number of specialist areas. Some in-service training programmes last for up to a year. For more details, see Royal College of Nursing - Professional Development.

Career prospects

Career development is structured and with experience, there are opportunities to specialise in a range of hospital and community areas. These can include:

  • neonatal intensive care;
  • paediatric oncology;
  • burns and plastics;
  • cancer care;
  • child protection;
  • ambulatory care;
  • asthma;
  • orthopaedics;
  • diabetes;
  • counselling;
  • continuing care for children with special needs;
  • work within young people's units.

As you become more senior, you can expect to have less hands-on nursing responsibility. You could progress to senior staff nurse, then ward sister or charge nurse. Management of a ward may lead to managing a clinical unit and, in the future, to executive posts within a trust.

You could also work towards becoming a nurse consultant where you'd spend half of your time working directly with patients. The remaining time would be spent on developing personal practice, being involved in research and contributing to the education, training and development of other nurses.

As with other branches of nursing, there are opportunities to progress your career in teaching, research or in a community-based role, for instance as a school nurse or health visitor.

Outside the NHS, you could work in private healthcare, social services, voluntary organisations, charities or in health services overseas. Nursing qualifications are usually transferable abroad and information can be found at Nursing & Midwifery Council: Working Outside the UK.