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.

Do I Want to Be 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.

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.

Job Requirements

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.

Common Requirements
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; ** (June 2012), ***The American Board of Pediatrics, ****New York Methodist Hospital.

Step 1: Graduate with a Bachelor's Degree

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.

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, an aspiring doctor may also want to volunteer or work in a medical setting to improve his or her 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 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.

Success Tip:

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

Step 3: Finish Medical School

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.

Step 4: Complete a Residency

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.

Step 5: Obtain Licensure

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).

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 provides a general information booklet, tutorials and practice tests, online videos and sample patient notes.
  • 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, among many others.

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