What Makes A Better Pediatric Nurse? Life Experience vs. Credentials

Pediatric nurses have unique challenges. Nurses are not only caring for the patient but the parents as well. What challenges do pediatric nurses without children of their own encounter? How do we overcome and connect with parents?


  • Specializes in Pediatrics, PICU, NICU, NBN, Peds PACU. Has 20 years experience.
What Makes A Better Pediatric Nurse? Life Experience vs. Credentials

What makes a better Pediatric Nurse?

I have often thought about this very question. Are you a better pediatric nurse if you are a mom or if you have skills and extra education?? I became a pediatric nurse in 1995 and have worked in pediatrics, PICU, NICU, Newborn Nursery and Pediatric PACU for almost 20 years. Half of my working years I was not a mom. I remember during my first years as a pediatric nurse getting asked, "Do you have kids?"

I thought to myself why would that matter, I am a skilled and competent nurse. I have my Bachelor's degree and am certified in BLS, PALS, and NRP and obtained my pediatric CCRN, why would being a mom make me a more competent nurse? It often made me think the parents of my patients questioned my care simply because I was not a mom.

Everything changed when I became a mom in 2005 through adoption and brought my daughter home in 2006. When I became a parent I related on an entirely different level. I began to understand how terrifying it can be when your baby has a high fever. I also realized that I now actively sought advice from other parents on my child's health issues and not opinions from people without kids of their own.

I am now able to draw from and share my own child's healthcare experiences with my patients' parents and give many new and experienced moms and dads a better understanding and expectation of the care I am providing their children. I currently work as a PACU nurse. My daughter had her adenoids removed at age 2. I experienced first hand how it feels to see your child coming out of anesthesia and not being able to soothe their discomfort, feeling helpless and frustrated.

Parents are often comforted by my stories and talk with me about their feelings. I recently had a patient who had a procedure and her mom was unsure if she should send her child to school the next day. I explained that it depends on the child and how they feel the next day. She asked if I was a mom, I answered yes, she then asked if I would send my daughter to school the next day. I answered her question honestly and she said that was all she needed, she would do the same and trusted my judgment completely. It made me think back to the times I was asked this same question when I was not a mom, all the education and degrees in the world do not make up for life experiences. I knew how to use all of my technical skills to help their child get well; however, at that stage in my career I was unable to pull from personal experiences.

In conclusion, being a mom does not make me a better pediatric nurse; it allows me to connect with the parents of my patients on a different level than nurses without children. I am now able to pull from my own personal experiences with my daughter when helping worried parents get through their child's recovery.

These personal connections are what the parents are looking for. I would say to nurses without children today to not be put off or concerned by the question "Are you a mom?" Be confident in your skills and find another connection with the parents that will build their confidence in you caring for their child. Being a nurse provides us with so many chances to connect with others and to make a real difference in these families' lives.


Written by Stephanie Murray RN, BSN, CCRN, CPN

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Pediatric Critical Care Columnist

NotReady4PrimeTime, RN

16 Articles; 7,358 Posts

Specializes in NICU, PICU, PCVICU and peds oncology. Has 25 years experience.

I agree with you that being a parent doesn't make one a better peds nurse, but it gives one a lot more street cred! The phenomenon we all experience when our own children are patients, where our intellectual, professional brain understands what's going on and what might happen next but it's totally at war with our panicky parent brain. That kind of insight is very valuable when explaining things and offering comfort to a parent at the bedside, and I think it helps us relate to the kids better too. Although this isn't a given - years ago I had a friend whose son had leukemia (now in his 30s and a parent himself) who, like me, returned to school to become a nurse once our kids were healthy again. She wasn't able to find that place inside her that recognized that no matter how minor a child's illness may be, those parents are out of their depth. She told me about her peds clinicals and a kiddo who went for an appy. The mom was crying as the OR doors closed behind her boy and all my friend could think was, "OMG... it's just an appy. He could have CANCER!"

My child (now in his 30's and healthy) with his very complex medical history provides me with a we're-all-in-this-together approach and sometimes by revealing little pieces of my history with him to another family in crisis lets them know that people do come through awful times and not only survive but conquer them. It's a valuable connection.

anon456, BSN, RN

7 Articles; 1,144 Posts

I am a peds nurse, also. I work with some amazing and compassionate nurses who do not have children. Sometimes though, I do reveal to parents that I am a mom, too.

Whenever a nurse-patient relationship is established, sometimes it's the combination of the personalities or life experience of the nurse and the patient (or parent of patient) that can make or break the experience. When I have a parent who is hard to reach, has put up a wall, or is having a hard time emotionally coping, it really seems to break down the barriers to let them know that I, too, am a mom, and my child was hospitalized sometimes when she was younger.

BSNbeauty, BSN, RN

1 Article; 1,939 Posts

I'm a postpartum nurse and I have a 3month old. I definitely feel that I'm able sympathize with my patients rather than empathize with them prior to having children. I don't believe having children makes a better nurse. However, having a child has definitely made me a better nurse.


248 Posts

Specializes in peds, allergy-asthma, ob/gyn office. Has 12 years experience.

I think being a parent definitely helps us relate to patients and parents. I had been gone from my allergy clinic job, and returned a few years later prn. My son had a developmental delay diagnosis, sensory integration dysfunction, and an autism spectrum (Pdd-NOS) diagnosis for awhile. We got a kiddo in for testing that was also on the spectrum. My mom experience helped me a lot with that one! Now, in Ob/Gyn... my own experience with preterm labor and having a late preterm baby helps too.... and being able to relate to the exhausted 6 week postpartum moms as well.


11 Posts

Aside from being able to empathize with the parents, I would say I'm no better of a nurse than I was prior to having a child. On the flip side though, being a nurse has allowed me to be a better mother to my child.


299 Posts

I always invoke the connection I have to my nieces and nephews. Most parents want to hear that they are not being unreasonable in their concern- then they want the advice that a reasonable health professional would give. I then follow up that if they ever have that "mom" sense that something is wrong that they can't quite identify to always be on the side of caution.

I will say that the ability to connect with parents is really helpful in establishing rapport... but it is not necessary to have kids.

Specializes in Acute Care Pediatrics. Has 4 years experience.

I think it gives me the advantage of patience. It is easy to get aggravated at the needy parents, the annoying parents, the over protective anal parents, the parents that ask too many questions, that call us every five seconds, etc. I know that there are times where those parents annoy *ME* as the nurse. (I have children


111 Posts

What a fascinating topic!

It's also one that's quite relevant to me, since the bulk of my nursing-staff experience (16 months) was caring for children with leukemia from 3 months (my youngest patient) until their tenth birthday, when they transferred to another unit. Most had at least one parent staying with them.

In my case, I never had the slightest feeling that parents wanted to know if I were a dad or not. I'm was then and am now a bachelor. Maybe that's because parents expect less in the way of parental expertise from guys/dads than from women/mothers. We don't get as close an examination and don't have to meet such high expectations.

I did feel, however, that those parents cared very much that I seemed competent in what I was doing. That's what mattered most to them and, since I was working nights, it mattered a lot since I was the one watching over their child while they slept. Expertise also comes up a bit short at nights too, so parents appreciate someone who knows their job. Fears about incompetence is what really upsets them.

Of course, I also compensated for my lack of parental experience by reminding myself of that and the fact that I could never quite grasp what these parents were feeling. That's as much true for those who are parents. Unless we have had a child facing that particularly illness, we can't quite know what it means either.

I never quite mastered that sympathy/empathy role either. How could I, a guy in his thirties who'd never faced a serious illness, understand what it was like to be a small child with a potentially fatal illnesses? Instead, I would remind myself what their situation was and from that determine how I should treat them. My attention was not on what they were feeling, but on what they needed me to do.

For instance, with dying children, I always consciously adopted a special role to counter what I feared would be my natural reaction to draw away. When I entered their room, I made sure I never seemed hurried. I wanted them to know they could have all the time from me they required. And when I talked with them, I always crouched down, so I was close, and looked them in the eyes. I wanted them to know that I'd be with them to the very end. I was doing my best to make sure they never felt abandoned by the hospital. Unfortunately, when a child began dying and nothing more could be done, that's often precisely what the doctors did.

I also had wonderful parents to deal with, with very few exceptions (actually only one). I adopted an attitude not to take anything said personally, to just keep doing my job. Grief can make people behave oddly.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma. Has 18 years experience.

I am not a parent, but am an aunt and a great aunt; I think being around children, having a sense of understanding when a child is sick can provide a helpful lifeline to many parents, and to the patients as well.

I can and have connected with parents about babies, toddlers, teen angst, and even can draw from my own life experiences to help bridge that gap to help understand how their child feels, and understand their helplessness.


18 Posts

Really enjoyed this read. Thanks for sharing.


7 Posts

Specializes in Pediatrics. Has 22 years experience.

Does it make you a better nurse to be a parent? No. But it might help you relate to what the parents are going through.