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Learn how to become a children's doctor. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information, and experience you will need to start a career in pediatrics.
Children's doctors, also called pediatricians, diagnose and treat ailments in infants and children. While many pediatricians focus on common injuries and diseases that affect younger people, others may diagnose and treat more serious medical conditions. Duties can range from administering vaccinations to performing major surgery.
The work environment in which pediatricians work varies: those who work in hospitals will work long hours, most of which are on their feet, while those in private practice may have more control over their schedules in a medical office setting. Many pediatricians make a lot of money, although the education required for the positions is lengthy.
To become a pediatrician, you're required to graduate with a bachelor's degree, complete medical school and participate in a residency. You'll also need to obtain a medical license and have the option to earn pediatric certification. The table below includes some of the requirements to become a pediatrician.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree, medical degree*|
|Degree Field||Bachelor's degree - organic chemistry, biology or physics*|
|License/Certification||Medical license required to practice*, voluntary certification is available***|
|Experience||Completion of a 3-year residency program****|
|Key Skills||Ability to communicate with patients, positive bedside manner, patience with children, problem-solving abilities, ability to appropriately respond in a crisis situation**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Monster.com (June 2012), ***The American Board of Pediatrics, ****New York Methodist Hospital.
There is no specific degree students need to earn at the bachelor's degree level to enroll in medical school; however, prospective pediatricians generally need to take a heavy load of math and science courses. Common majors include biology, physics and chemistry. To be accepted into medical school, a student needs to perform well in his or her classes and earn high marks.
Taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is required to apply to almost any medical school. The test consists of four sections, including physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning and a writing sample. The higher the score a student achieves on the MCAT, the better the chances he or she has to enroll in the medical school of his or her choice.
The first portion a medical education, medical school, requires four years, and students take courses covering every area of medicine. During the first two years, students take medical courses that can prepare them for rotations during their final two years. Courses cover topics in biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics and anatomy. Rotations include family practice, internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry, obstetrics and pediatrics. The pediatric rotation can provide students with the necessary experience to know whether they want to pursue careers in a particular medical specialty.
A pediatric residency, also referred to as graduate medical school, is a 3-year program that offers aspiring physicians an opportunity to begin treating young patients. Students work rotations, providing them with the opportunity to work in a variety of pediatric settings. Although the curriculum of residency programs can slightly differ between sites, the purpose is to provide supervised medical experience, allowing students to make the transition into independent medical doctors. Students can complete their entire residency at a single location or alternate sites each year.
To practice medicine, students are legally required to obtain medical licensure. The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is a 3-part exam that ensures students understand what it takes to work in a medical setting and treat patients. The first part of the exam assesses whether students can apply scientific concepts in a medical medical setting, while the second part of the exam tests knowledge of clinical science and patient care. The final part of the exam focuses on patient management in ambulatory settings. Although students can begin taking the exam prior to residency, potential pediatricians cannot become licensed until they successfully complete their residency requirements. After they've obtained a medical license, doctors can sit for optional certification exams through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP).