How to Become a Pediatric Doctor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a pediatric doctor. Research education and career requirements, licensing and certification information, and experience required for starting a career in pediatrics.

Should I Become a Pediatric Doctor?

Pediatricians specialize in treating ailments and illnesses of children. They treat illnesses such as strep throat, pink eye, colds, and chicken pox. In addition, pediatricians help healthy children stay well; this can include administering immunizations, evaluating patients' growth and weight, and providing guidance for social, mental, and emotional health. Pediatricians might work for clinics, hospitals, or in private practice.

Pediatric doctors work primarily in medical office settings but might need to travel to homes or hospitals when special patients' needs arise. Generally speaking, pediatric doctors work on a full-time basis, although some longer hours might be needed. These doctors are typically well paid, and the rewards of caring for children are great. However, working as a pediatrician can be stressful.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (MD) required, as well as completion of a residency program
Degree Field Varies by level; no specific degree is required at the bachelor's level, but certain scientific coursework is commonly required for admission to medical school; medicine at the doctoral level; pediatrics in the residency program
Licensure and Certification Must pass national exam and be licensed by the state; pediatric certification is optional, but common
Experience 3 years for a pediatric residency, 3 additional years for an optional subspecialty
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills, empathy, problem-solving skills, knowledge of medical software to mange patients' charts
Salary $163,350 per year (Median salary from May, 2014 for general pediatricians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New England Journal of Medicine, Association of American Medical Colleges

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical schools do not typically require a particular undergraduate degree for admission. However, medical schools do look for students who have successfully completed pre-medical coursework, which includes math, chemistry, biology and physics. Students are also expected to have coursework in English and social sciences. A degree in biology is a common pathway for aspiring physicians, and some schools offer structured pre-medical programs that are designed to prepare students for medical school.

Success Tips

  • Prepare for and take the MCAT. Accredited medical schools require applicants to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Students are evaluated on their knowledge of physical science and biology, cognitive skills and verbal reasoning skills. Some students take preparatory courses online or in person or form study groups to prepare.
  • Engage in volunteer work. Some students gain experience working with patients by volunteering at a medical facility. They can also volunteer with children in schools or after-school programs to gain experience working with young people.

Step 2: Earn a Medical Degree

The first two years of a typical medical program are spent in a classroom, taking courses in medical procedure, body systems and disease, among other subjects. During the second half of the program, students complete clinical rotations, working with patients while supervised by a licensed physician. Clinical rotations include areas like pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and internal medicine.

Success Tips

  • Practice for and begin the medical licensing exam. Students typically complete the first part of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) prior to beginning clinical instruction and the second part of the exam after completing clinical instruction. Some states require that students complete parts one and two of the exam prior to beginning a residency. New pediatricians commonly take the last step during residency, after medical school.
  • Think about residency options. Most students use the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) to obtain their residency assignment. Identify a broad list of pediatric residency programs that would satisfy you, and schedule your interviews with them. A 2011 report from the NRMP advised listing less competitive programs as well as preferred programs.

Step 3: Complete a Residency

In a residency, aspiring pediatricians have the opportunity to receive focused instruction related to children's medicine. Residents work hands-on with patients during clinical rotations. They assess their own work, as well as case studies, in meetings and group settings designed specifically for residents. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, a pediatric residency lasts three years. During that time, residents learn about general pediatrics and newborn care.

Success Tips

  • Consider a subspecialty. Students can choose from many specialties in pediatrics, including adolescent medicine, pediatric sports medicine, pediatric gastroenterology and neonatal-perinatal medicine. Choosing a subspecialty can extend one's residency by up to three years.
  • Build a network. The residency can be a challenging time, and some residents relocate for a position. Building a network can provide emotional and professional support for individuals trying to learn their profession. Joining a professional organization and seeking out mentors can help aspiring pediatricians adjust to a new lifestyle and workload.
  • Seek a work-life balance. The hectic schedule of a resident can make it easy for pediatricians to sacrifice sleep, exercise, relationships and other healthy habits. However, strong relationships, as well as regular eating, sleeping and exercise habits, can help residents stay most productive. Residents should work to integrate healthy habits into their hectic lifestyles.

Step 4: Obtain a Medical License

It is required by law that pediatricians obtain a license from their state licensing board. Although requirements vary by state, all pediatricians must submit confirmation of education and training. They also must have successfully taken all three parts of the USMLE.

Step 5: Become Board Certified

The American Board of Pediatrics offers optional certification to licensed pediatricians. To become eligible for certification, applicants must have completed the relevant medical training within the past seven years. Individuals who have let more than seven years lapse may be required to undergo additional training. Applicants must also take the certifying exam, which consists of 300-350 questions. Pediatricians can also be certified in a subspecialty by taking an additional subspecialty certifying exam.

Step 6: Maintain Certification

To stay certified, pediatricians are required to continue their education. The American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) have developed a four-part program to help physicians stay up-to-date on advancements in pediatrics. Pediatricians are required to earn continuing education credits. They are regularly evaluated on their professionalism, medical knowledge, practice techniques and communication skills by taking an exam every ten years.

Maintaining certification demonstrates professionalism and dedication to the craft and may lead to career advancement opportunities within clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities that employ pediatricians.

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