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The nursing field is filled with various specialties. And that’s a good thing, as while working in emergency would be too stressful for one nurse, it is the perfect fit for another.

Cara J. Szeglin, BSN, RN, CPEN, a Clinical Ladder III Staff Nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, is one of these nurses who thrives working with emergency patients. She took time from her schedule to answer our questions about what it’s like to work as a Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN).

How long have you been a CPEN? What drew you to get that certification?

Cara with BCEN Board of Directors Chairperson-Elect Kyle Madigan, MSN, RN, CEN, CFRN, CTRN, CCRN, CMTE right after she received BCEN’s 2019 Distinguished CPEN Award
(Photo courtesy of Brian McCarthy)

I became CPEN-certified in November 2014. By this point, I had been an emergency nurse for about seven years. The first year was with only adult patients, the next two years with adult and pediatric patients, and the last four years were solely pediatric emergency patients. 

When I applied to sit for the CPEN, I had reached a point in my career where I felt like my education and pediatric emergency experience were enough for me to be ready. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) recommends nurses have two years of practice in their specialty. Passing BCEN’s Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN) examination proved to myself, my place of employment, and to my patients that I was indeed an expert in my field.     

Why do you enjoy working as a CPEN?

I absolutely love working in pediatric emergency care as a CPEN. I still cannot believe I get to do my job because it is just so much fun. The pediatric patients are great, the parents and guardians are grateful, and my co-workers are amazing. 

Some of the greatest moments I have as a Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse are when a patient comes in sick or injured, and their guardians and the patient can be confused, worried, upset, and experiencing a host of other emotions, and as a CPEN, I’m able to anticipate what the plan of care should be and I know how to tell them what’s happening and what to expect in a way they will understand. You know by their questions if they understand or if they need you try to explain it another way. I always tell them it is all right to ask questions — as many as they like — and as a CPEN, I feel confident I know the answers or know how to get them and explain them.

The biggest thing about being a CPEN is that you have gained their trust because you are an expert professional who is going to give their loved one the very best care.

What are some of the biggest challenges to being a CPEN?

I have known some extraordinary pediatric emergency nurses who just needed a motivating nudge to get their nerve up to take the exam and get board certified. When I first started nursing and heard about the CPEN, I thought “Those are the elite people. I want to be them one day.” And then when I passed the exam, I said “What took me so long?”

What are some of the greatest rewards?

As a CPEN, I’m part of the care plan for my patients. Before I became a CPEN, fully understanding the rationale of why providers were requesting what they were ordering and engaging with the whole team had really been a challenge for me. Earning the CPEN has helped me find my voice and offer suggestions instead of just accepting all orders as they are. I love being able to constructively question the providers and asking for rationales.

Being a CPEN has boosted my confidence — I am a valued member of the care team who needs to know what is going on and why and whose voice needs to be considered when the care plan is being discussed. This also means I’m better able to ensure that my patients and their families know what the plan is and understand why. 

If nurses reading this are interested in becoming CPENs, what would you say to them?

The CPEN is for nurses who want to demonstrate their expertise in treating infants and children in emergency settings. The exam covers the most common pediatric illnesses and clinical issues of all kinds, including trauma, respiratory and cardiac issues, plus less common things that you still need to know because you never know what might come through your doors. The BCEN website contains all the information you need to apply for the exam, how to schedule a test date (which you can do all over the country throughout the year), plus a lot of helpful resources. 

I studied for the CPEN exam just as hard or probably even harder than I had for the nursing boards. A key part was scheduling a test date along with a pediatric emergency nursing friend of mine — so there was no backing out. We studied together, supported each other, and passed on the same day together! Each of us study and learn in different ways.

What else is important for readers to know?

There are so many good things, rewarding things about being a nurse, especially pediatric emergency care. There are days when everything seemed to go so smoothly and you excelled at everything you did. And then there are the days when something came through the doors totally unexpected, and you only hope you can hold it together until the end of your long shift so you can cry about it on the way home. The same can be said for all specialties of nursing. But you pull it together and show up for work the next shift, with the same level of care, dedication, and enthusiasm because being a nurse is the best career

I love being a CPEN, and I hope that readers can feel my passion and get motivated to become certified themselves, and if they are already certified, I hope that this inspires them to seek out other nurses and start being a mentor for them!

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Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.


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