How to Become a Children's Doctor: Career and Education Roadmap

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.

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Should I Become a Children's Doctor?

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.

Pediatricians who administer medical care in hospitals work long hours, most of which are on their feet, while those in private practice have more control over their schedules in a medical office setting. Many pediatricians make a lot of money, although the education required for the position 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.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree, medical degree
Degree Field Bachelor's degree in organic chemistry, biology or physics
License and Certification Medical license required to practice, voluntary certification is available
Experience Completion of a three-year residency program
Key Skills Ability to communicate with patients, positive bedside manner, patience with children, problem-solving abilities, able to appropriately respond in a crisis situation
Salary (2014) $163,350 per year (Median salary for all pediatricians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (June 2012), The American Board of Pediatrics, New York Methodist Hospital

Step 1: Graduate with a Bachelor's Degree

There's no specific bachelor's degree students need to earn in order 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, students need to perform well in their classes and earn high marks.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer or work in a medical setting. While having a strong grade point average is almost always necessary to be accepted into medical school, aspiring doctors may also want to volunteer or work in a medical setting. They can list the experience on their medical school application.

Step 2: Pass the MCAT with a High Score

Taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is required to apply to almost any medical school. The test consists of four sections, including physical and biological sciences, verbal reasoning and a writing sample. When students achieve a high score on the MCAT, they increase their chances of being accepted by their chosen medical school.

Success Tip:

  • Complete practice tests. The Medical College Admissions Test's website offers practice tests that helps prepare students for the MCAT. By looking at the results of these practice tests, students can determine which areas they need to improve upon before taking the official test.

Step 3: Finish Medical School

The first portion of medical school requires four years of study. Students are immersed in courses covering every area of medicine. During the first two years, students take medical courses to prepare them for the rotations they will do in 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 provides students with the necessary experience they need to make a decision about pursuing a medical specialty.

Step 4: Complete a Residency

A pediatric residency, also referred to as graduate medical school, is a three-year program that offers aspiring physicians an opportunity to begin treating young patients. Students work rotations, which provide 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 supervised medical experience, allowing students to make the transition to become independent medical doctors. Students can complete their entire residency at a single location or alternate sites each year.

Step 5: Obtain Licensure

To practice medicine, students are legally required to obtain medical licensure. The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is a three-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 setting, while the second portion of the exam tests knowledge of clinical science and patient care. The final section 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).

Success Tips:

  • Visit the USMLE website to prepare for the exam. Numerous preparation materials are available to help students understand the exam content areas and what they need to study. The USMLE supplies a general information booklet, tutorials and practice tests, online videos and sample patient notes for students.
  • Choose to specialize in a pediatric area. Numerous specialty certifications are offered through the ABP, which verify that a doctor has the knowledge and skills to treat patients living with certain conditions and diseases. Specialty certifications include pediatric cardiology, pediatric critical care, child abuse pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine.
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