How to Become a Critical Care Pediatrician

Research the requirements to become a critical care pediatrician. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career as a critical care pediatrician. View article »

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  • 0:02 Critical Care…
  • 1:23 Earn Bachelor's & Take…
  • 2:39 Complete Medical School
  • 3:21 Complete Residency &…
  • 4:41 Obtain Licensure
  • 5:09 Pursue Board Certification

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Video Transcript

Critical Care Pediatrician Overview

Critical care pediatricians diagnose, treat and monitor infants, children and adolescents with unstable life threatening conditions. Medical complications that critical care pediatricians treat include serious infections, heart defects, shock and trauma.

The majority of pediatricians who specialize in critical care work in hospitals or urgent care centers. These physicians usually work at least 40 hours a week, often more, and schedules include on-call, evening and weekend hours. This job can be fiscally and emotionally rewarding, but for every child's life that is saved, there is also the chance to lose a patient as well. Working as a critical care pediatrician can be stressful and demand much of a physician.

Degree Level Doctorate
Degree Field Medicine
Licensure and Certification All states require physicians to be licensed; certification through the American Board of Medical Specialties is voluntary
Key Skills Knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics; skills in active listening, verbal and written communication, critical thinking, leadership, social perceptiveness, judgment and decision making; empathetic and patient
Salary (2016) $244,289 (median annual salary for critical care pediatricians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine,

Let's look at the steps you need to take to become a critical care pediatrician.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most prospective physicians earned a bachelor's degree prior to applying to medical school. While a specific major isn't typically required, students should complete undergraduate coursework in science, English, humanities and math to reflect a broad educational background. Selection committees also take into consideration a students' grade point average, extracurricular activities and overall intelligence. Some schools offer combined bachelor's degree and Doctor of Medicine programs, which can last up to eight years.

Most medical schools require Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores as part of the application process. Colleges suggest that students take the exam in their junior year in the event that they need to retest. MCAT prep programs and practice tests are available through private educational vendors, universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Step 2: Take the MCAT

The MCAT is administered several times annually from January through September. This standardized multiple-choice test covers verbal reasoning, physical science and biological sciences. In one calendar year, students may retake the test up to three times.

Step 3: Complete Medical School

Typically, during the first two years of medical school, students follow a pre-set curriculum and learn to diagnose disease and treat patients. The third and fourth years are dedicated to clinical practice in a variety of medical specialties, including pediatrics. Clinical rotations might take students to several area hospitals and clinics where the focus is on the health of inpatients and outpatients. Students learn to document the medical histories of newborns, toddlers and school-age children; understand child growth and development from birth to adolescence; and work with patients and their families to learn how to treat and evaluate childhood illnesses and disorders.

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Step 4: Complete a Residency and Fellowship Training

Most pediatric residency programs are clinical and research-based and last three years. Clinical responsibilities typically include on-call duty in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) under direct supervision of attending physicians and fellows. Additionally, trainees are introduced to a variety of clinical research opportunities.

In addition to exposing fellows to a wide range of critically ill patients, Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship programs emphasize pediatric care in the Medical-Surgical and Cardiac Intensive Care Units. Fellows perform rounds and supervise residents and medical students under the guidance of the critical care attending physician.

Fellows might consider getting certified in Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association established the PALS certification course for medical professionals to practice their life saving skills using medical equipment for children. Students learn to operate a bag valve mask on a child, insert an endotracheal tube and maneuver a defibrillator on a child.

Step 5: Obtain Licensure

After completing education and training, a critical care pediatrician must successfully pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination in order to practice in his or her state. Other requirements for licensure differ by state. Physicians should check with their state medical boards to learn about these requirements as well as the requirements to maintain licensure. The latter usually includes continuing education.

Step 6: Pursue Board Certification

The American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) offers general and pediatric critical care certification. Certification is not required to legally practice critical care pediatric medicine in the United States, but many hospitals and clinics prefer to hire candidates with a credential, and many insurance companies require it in order to cover a pediatrician's services. Eligibility for general pediatric certification includes graduation from an accredited medical school, three years of postgraduate pediatric training and a current medical license. The seven-hour, computer-based certification exam is administered through a testing vendor. The pediatric critical care medicine subspecialty can be earned by providing proof of the completion of a pediatric fellowship and passing an exam, as well as having initial pediatric certification through the ABP. Maintenance of the certification occurs by taking an exam and completing various professional development activities.

In summary, a critical care pediatrician needs to earn a medical degree, complete a residency and fellowship, and pass the USMLE and meet other licensure requirements. Certification is technically voluntary but might be required by employers and insurers.

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