How to Become a Pediatrician
Pediatricians are doctors who specialize in the treatment of infants, children, and adolescents.
Some pediatricians provide primary care to children in general pediatric group or solo practices, but others practice pediatric subspecialties like allergy and immunology, anesthesiology, cardiology, critical care, emergency medicine, endocrinology, radiology, and surgery.
Up until their residencies, pediatricians receive the same training as any other physician. Physicians must attend medical school, a four-year graduate program, after completing all or most of a bachelor’s degree. Applying to medical school is a rigorous process, and medical schools prefer applicants with high grades in science and math courses, a high score on the Medical College Admissions Test, positive references and interviews, and experience working or volunteering in health care.
Students who are accepted to a medical school begin their physician training by learning about the scientific foundations of medicine. Most of the first two years of a typical medical school program are spent in the classroom. Students take courses in anatomy and physiology, cell structure and genetics, pathology (the study of the causes and effects of disease), immunology (the study of immune function), and pharmacology (the study of the uses and effects of different kinds of drugs). Students also spend time learning about organ systems such as the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, renal, urinary tract, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems. Neuroscience, psychiatry, and gynecology are studied as well.
Medical school curricula also focus on the practice of medicine. Students learn how to build relationships with patients and how to conduct examinations, take medical histories, interview patients, and make a diagnosis.
The second half of a medical school program is spent completing clinical rotations, or clerkships. Students observe and treat patients under the supervision of experienced physicians, and each clerkship focuses on a certain area of care, like psychiatry, surgery, critical care, primary care, anesthesia, and pediatrics. Medical students have the freedom to choose electives in their area of interest, and prospective pediatricians may study pediatric subspecialties like pediatric cardiology, adolescent medicine, neonatology, or pediatric intensive care.
After graduation from medical school, training continues in the form of one or more residencies. Graduates choose their specialty and are matched with a residency through the National Resident Matching Program. The length of the residency varies by specialty, but most pediatricians complete a three-year residency before they begin to practice. Pediatricians who want to train in a combined specialty like pediatrics and psychiatry or pediatrics and emergency medicine may complete a residency that lasts five years.
Are there any certification or licensure requirements?
All physicians must be licensed by their state to treat patients. Requirements vary by state, but in general, physicians must complete a graduate medical program that includes clinical rotations, complete a residency, and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination.
While not technically required to practice, most physicians pursue board certification in their specialty. The American Board of Pediatrics certifies pediatricians who meet its requirements, including graduating from medical school, completing postgraduate pediatric training, holding a state license to practice, and passing a certification exam. Pediatricians first pursue a general pediatrics certification, and those who want to become certified in a subspecialty can start the subspecialty certification process. To become certified in a pediatric subspecialty, pediatricians must show that they have completed training in their subspecialty and contributed to scholarly activity and research in their field.
How long does it take to become a pediatrician?
It takes four years to complete medical school and three years to complete a general pediatrics residency. Pediatricians whose postgraduate training combines pediatrics with another medical specialty will spend an additional two years in their residency.
What does a pediatrician earn?
The median yearly pay for pediatricians in the United States was $216,069 in 2012.
What are the job prospects?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of physicians and surgeons in the United States will grow by 18 percent between 2012 and 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. As the population grows and more people gain access to health insurance and health care, more physicians will be needed. Pediatricians who want to work in rural and urban underserved areas should have the best job prospects.
What are the long term career prospects for pediatricians?
Pediatricians who find success in private practice may eventually own their own solo practice or part of a group practice. Those who work in hospitals may become leaders in their department. Other pediatricians pursue additional training and go into higher education and research.
How can I find a job as a pediatrician?
Pediatricians may find work by applying for open positions they find on specialized physician job search websites or by being recruited by a practice or hospital looking to fill an opening. Doctors make many professional contacts throughout their education and training, and they often learn about job opportunities through their network.
Some pediatricians find temporary work through a locum tenens agency. Doctors may take leaves of absence from their practices and use these agencies to find doctors to fill in while they are away.
How can I learn more about becoming a pediatrician?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has many resources on its website for those who are interested in becoming pediatricians and those who are in the process of becoming pediatricians, including the Pediatrics 101 Handbook.
Talking with someone in the field can also help you learn more about the profession. Seek out your childhood pediatrician or a pediatrician who practices in your area to see if they can meet with you to talk about the challenges and rewards of their work.