Pediatricians are physicians that specialize in the care of young people. Typically providing medical treatment for patients under the age of 21, pediatricians train for many years to gain the skills and knowledge required to fulfill their job.
Like most doctors, pediatricians work long hours and need a great deal of physical stamina and emotional resilience. While it’s not a career for everyone, working in children’s medicine is both challenging and rewarding.
If you’re considering a career in pediatrics but aren’t sure where to start, read on. This article will look at the typical educational path and show you how to become a pediatrician.
What Is a Pediatrician?
A pediatrician is a doctor that is trained to address the medical needs of infants, children, and teenagers. Typically providing care until young-adulthood, pediatricians diagnose and treat diseases and conditions as well as behavioral and mental health issues.
A pediatrician’s primary role is to:
- Diagnose illnesses and conditions in children and young people
- Assess and recommend treatment options
- Perform immunizations and annual check-ups
- Monitor growth and development
- Prescribe medications and perform tests and medical procedures
- Provide preventative care and advice
While much of the care given by pediatricians involves the patient’s physical well-being, they also provide counseling and preventative health information relating to hygiene, exercise, and diet. Pediatricians help with behavioral difficulties and developmental disorders as well as providing mental health care.
All in all, pediatricians look after the physical, mental, and social well-being of children and young adults.
The following skills are considered vital in order to become a pediatrician:
- Communication skills: To explain a diagnosis and procedures, pediatricians need to be excellent communicators.
- Compassion and patience: Many children don’t like visiting the doctor. To be successful, a high degree of compassion and patience is required.
- Problem-solving skills: Pediatricians need to be able to think on their feet and diagnose patients quickly and correctly.
- Dexterity: All doctors need strong mental and physical dexterity, but seeing as children are constantly active, this is especially true for pediatricians. They need to be able to keep a child entertained while still performing procedures.
To become a pediatrician, you will need to complete years of specialized training. After graduating high school (or passing a General Education Development test), the typical educational path involves completing a bachelor’s degree, medical degree, and residency before you can apply for a license. To further specialize in a sub-field of pediatrics, an optional fellowship may need to be completed.
In order to become a pediatrician, you will need to complete the following educational requirements.
To gain entrance into medical school, you must complete premedical courses during your undergraduate degree. Typically including organic and inorganic chemistry, biology, math, and physics, some students choose to complete a pre-med program rather than specific prerequisite courses.
While pre-med programs typically add an extra year to a three-year bachelor’s degree, it can be seen as advantageous when applying to medical school. Students with the intention of going into pediatrics before starting their undergraduate studies should choose to major in child psychology or another related field.
To become a pediatrician, you will need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree. During your undergraduate studies, you will be required to sit the Medical College Admissions Test or MCAT. This test assesses candidates’ knowledge of physical and biological sciences and is a prerequisite for most medical schools.
Completing medical school generally takes four years. The first two years are spent in a classroom and laboratory setting focusing on anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology, as well as medical ethics.
During the latter two years, the focus shifts to broadening your experience and caring for patients. In a medical setting such as a hospital or clinic, students become exposed to multiple specialties including cardiology, surgery, family medicine, and pediatrics.
Upon completion of medical school, a student will earn their doctorate, but they will need to complete more training before being able to practice. Under the supervision of an experienced pediatrician, you will receive hands-on training while completing your three-year pediatric residency. You will be exposed to sub-specialties such as adolescent and emergency medicine, and you may also conduct research or gain teaching experience.
Doctors who wish to pursue a career in sub-specialties often undertake a fellowship after their residency. Residencies and fellowships are paid positions and can take anywhere from five to ten years to complete, depending on the specialization.
While completing medical school or your residency, you will be required to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) in order to practice. The three-part exam tests general science and medical knowledge as well as your ability to put it into practice.
After you pass this test, you can then apply to your state’s medical board for a license.
Although not a requirement, after the successful completion of your residency, you can choose to become board certified in pediatrics. To sit the exam, you will need to have a medical degree, current license, and have completed three years of pediatric training.
Once you have passed the exam, the American Board of Pediatrics awards certification which is valid for seven years.
After completing the educational requirements, a varied career path is available for pediatricians. With a deep understanding of children’s medicine, pediatricians are able to work in health care facilities, schools, clinics, and hospitals.
According to the latest figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the average starting salary for a pediatric resident is $150,000. The institution where a pediatrician completed their studies as well as their specialization can affect their future earnings.
The 2018 Medscape Pediatrician Compensation Report found the average pediatrician salary to be $212,000. Pediatricians working in specialized hospitals have the highest average salary, earning $223,490 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although it takes years of dedicated study and training to become a pediatrician, up to 80% of pediatricians would choose the same profession again if given the chance. If learning how to become a pediatrician has piqued your interest, speak to your local college or university about entrance requirements.
With a high starting salary and a rewarding career path, the future for pediatricians is promising.