Post-Master's Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) Graduate Certificate Programs - Campus and Online Post-MSN Programs
Updated: October 15, 2022
Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) graduate certificate programs provide graduate-trained Registered Nurses (RNs) with the didactic coursework and clinical instruction required to become a state licensed and/or nationally certified Nurse Practitioner (NP) in the pediatric acute care specialization. In order to qualify for these programs, RNs must hold a graduate degree in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. While some graduate certificate programs may also require applicants to have training in an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specialization and/or one or more years of full-time professional clinical experience, many are designed for RNs with graduate training in any MSN or DNP specialization.
The post-graduate entry point for these non-degree programs allows schools to provide students with only those courses and clinical hours needed to qualify for certification and/or licensure. Thus, graduate certificate programs in the PACNP specialization offer qualified nurses with a direct pathway to becoming a PACNP in one to two years rather than the two, three, or more years it takes to complete a second MSN or a DNP program with a specialization in pediatric acute care nursing.
Pediatric Acute Care Nursing Explained
Acute care pediatric nursing is a specialization that involves treating infants, children, adolescents, and young adults who present with complex acute, critical, and chronic health illness, injury, or disease. Like other types of NPs, PACNPs must be knowledgeable in advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and advanced patient assessment, often referred to as the “Three P’s” of advanced practice nursing. Their scope of practice encompasses ordering and interpreting medical diagnostic tests, performing physical examinations, prescribing treatments and medications subject to their state’s prescriptive authority regulations, and working with physicians and other allied health professionals to effectively assess, monitor, and manage pediatric patients requiring urgent and acute medical care. In addition, PACNPs are commonly tasked with educating parents, guardians, and other relevant family members about patient diagnoses and treatments in order to coordinate the care of young patients.
Identifying and Classifying Post-Master’s PACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
PACNP graduate certificate programs are designed for RNs who have already completed a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, and who thus do not need general training in advanced clinical nursing in order to qualify for licensure and/or certification in the PACNP specialty. These programs are typically offered by colleges, universities, and schools of nursing that have programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), and that offer MSN and/or DNP programs in pediatric nursing. In fact, PACNP coursework, as detailed in the section below, generally consists of three or four specialization courses drawn from an MSN/DNP program with a PACNP specialty, as well as any additional APRN core courses, such as advanced courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology, and patient assessment (for RNs who have not already completed these courses).
These programs may be designated as Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Graduate, Postgraduate, and Post-Master’s certificate programs, or as Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care Graduate, Postgraduate, and Post-Master’s certificate programs. While all PACNP graduate certificate programs, regardless of formal designation, require applicants to hold a minimum of an MSN degree, there are three general types of PACNP certificate programs that vary based on their admission requirements:
- Post-MSN PACNP certificate programs that accept RNs who have completed an MSN degree in any specialization
- Post-MSN PACNP certificate programs that require RNs to hold an MSN or DNP degree with an NP/APRN specialty
- Post-MSN PACNP certificate programs that require applicants to be APRNs with prior MSN or DNP training in pediatric primary care nursing or another specific NP/APRN specialty
In general, APRNs looking to add a second specialty in pediatric acute care nursing can attend any program for which they meet the admissions criteria and should have similar requirements to complete the certificate program. On the other hand, master’s trained RNs who are not already licensed in an APRN specialty need to find a post-master’s certificate program that does not require applicants to already be licensed APRNs. Finally, some PACNP certificate programs require RNs to have one or more years of post-graduate clinical experience, and there are also programs that require applicants to have spent a year or more working in clinical settings with pediatric patients. It is therefore advisable to review each program’s admissions criteria carefully prior to submitting an application.
PACNP Graduate Certificate Coursework
The primary purpose of PACNP graduate certificate programs is to prepare qualified nurses for licensure and certification in the PACNP specialization. Thus, program curricula generally align with the requirements for the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care (CPNP-AC) credential administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). While the CPNP-AC credential is not required by all states for licensure, most employers require a PNCB credential and many states have licensure requirements that align with those of the PNCB.
To meet the training requirements set forth by the PNCB for CPNP-AC certification, PACNP graduate certificate programs offer a curriculum designed to ensure that RNs who graduate from the program have completed general advance practice nursing coursework in the “Three P’s” (Patient Assessment, Physiology and Pathophysiology, and Pharmacology), specialization coursework in the principles and practices of acute care pediatric nursing, and a minimum of 500 hours of supervised clinical hours in pediatric and acute care nursing. Typically, RNs are given credit for applicable courses and clinical hours they have already completed during their MSN and/or DNP program. Most graduate certificate programs accomplish this by conducting a gap analysis for each student upon admission in order to identify the specific courses and the number and type of clinical hours that a student must complete in order to earn a PACNP certificate.
Thus, the coursework and clinical hours each student must complete in a PACNP certificate program is dependent on his or her prior academic and clinical training. However, there are typically a minimum of three or four core curricular components that all PACNP certificate program students are required to complete, including didactic courses and clinicals that cover proficiencies in acute care pediatric nursing. The three courses listed below are representative of specialization courses required by PACNP graduate certificate programs.
- Advanced Pharmacology and Prescribing for Pediatric and Adolescent Care – The use of medications and other pharmacological treatments in the care of acutely ill infants, children, and adolescents.
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Illness in Pediatric Nursing – An evidence-based approach to identifying and managing acute episodic and chronic health problems in infants, children, and adolescents.
- Management of Chronic Acute Illness in Pediatric and Adolescent Patients – An overview of chronic acute illnesses in the pediatric and adolescent patient population and the treatment of these chronic and acute illnesses.
It is important to stress that RNs who are admitted into a PACNP graduate certificate but who have not yet taken courses in advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and/or advanced patient assessment must complete those courses as well in order to earn a graduate certificate. Students who have taken those courses are typically not required to do so again. Similarly, RNs who have logged clinical hours in pediatric care setting may be credited with some or all of those hours through the gap analysis process.
Online Post-Master’s PACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
Online PACNP graduate certificate programs offer RNs who cannot or who would prefer not to commute to a campus location for classes a convenient and more flexible alternative to traditional campus-based programs. Online programs accomplish this by offering all or most of their didactic instruction via distance learning technologies and allowing students to complete clinical rotations near their place of residence*. These programs may also be ideal for nurses who are interested in pediatric acute care nursing but do not live near a school that offers a graduate certificate program in the specialty.
While many online programs do not require any campus visits, some host a limited number of required campus-based sessions. Typically, PACNP certificate programs that require campus visits may have a one- or two-day orientation session for new students and/or one or two additional campus visits at which students engage in hands-on learning, attend medical technology labs and workshops, and/or participate in professional skills seminars. These campus visits, commonly referred to as on-campus intensives (OCIs), immersion sessions, and residencies, are typically short in duration and may be scheduled over long weekends or at other times that are convenient for students who are working full-time.
There are also blended or hybrid online PACNP programs that utilize a mix of online and campus-based instruction. Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified as blended/hybrid online programs on this site. While these programs offer greater convenience and flexibility than fully campus-based programs, they may not be practical for students who do not live or work within commuting distance of the school offering the program.
A potentially important factor to consider when exploring online programs is the method of online instruction used by the program. Synchronous instruction is one mode of online instruction. It requires students to view real-time lectures and participate in virtual class sessions that are scheduled in advance at specific times. In contrast, asynchronous instruction, which is the other primary mode of online instruction, does not have a real-time component and allows students to view pre-recorded lectures 24/7, complete interactive learning modules, and submit assignments at their convenience, as long as they abide by predetermined assignment deadlines. While asynchronous instruction is less rigid and affords more scheduling flexibility than synchronous instruction, it typically requires more self-discipline and self-motivation. Synchronous instruction provides more structure than asynchronous instruction, but it affords less scheduling flexibility.
Examples of Online Post-MSN PACNP Graduate Certificate Programs
The programs listed below provide a representative overview of PACNP graduate certificate programs that are offered online by accredited, non-profit colleges, universities, and schools of nursing with ACEN or CCNE accreditation.
The University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) offers an online Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate (Post Master’s) program that is designed for RNs who hold an MSN or DNP degree in any specialization. In addition, applicants are required to have two years of professional nursing experience prior to enrollment. The program’s PACNP curriculum consists of five courses. Students are not required to attend any campus visits, but they are required to complete clinical rotations at a program-approved site. For more information on the program, visit the UT Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation at www.uta.edu/conhi.
Johns Hopkins University offers a Post-Master’s Online Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate program that is designed for licensed Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (PPCNPs) who have one year of professional experience in pediatric primary care nursing. The 13-credit program consists of three didactic courses, one on-site clinical lab, and the off-site supervised clinical hours a student requires in order to attain eligibility for CPNP-AC certification. For more information on the program, visit the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing at nursing.jhu.edu.
Rush University offers an online Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (AC PNP) Postgraduate Certificate (PGC) program through its College of Nursing. The program is designed to prepare experienced APRNs to become certified and/or licensed in the PACNP specialization. Applicants to the program are required to have already completed training in an APRN specialization and to have a minimum of two years of full-time pediatric nursing experience. Students in the program are required to attend a one-day orientation session at the start of the program, two weeklong immersion sessions, and, pending a gap analysis, a two-day campus visit that is part of the program’s advanced health assessment course. In addition, students complete 500 acute care clinical hours and, if necessary, 84 hours of primary care pediatric nursing clinicals. For more information on the program, visit the Rush University College of Nursing at www.rushu.rush.edu/college-nursing.
More Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate Programs
*RNs who are considering an online PACNP graduate certificate program offered by a school in a state other than the one in which they reside should review their state’s licensing policies for NPs, as licensing requirements vary by state. It is also advisable to research program admissions policies carefully, as some PACNP graduate certificate programs do not accept out-of-state online students from all 50 states. Therefore, students are advised to speak with an admissions advisor about these issues, as well as the placement process for completing clinical hours, before applying to an online program.