How to Become a Pediatric Surgeon: Career Roadmap

Jun 15, 2021

The education requirements to become a pediatric surgeon are quite extensive and include earning a medical degree and completing surgical training. We examine the steps to becoming a pediatric surgeon in detail and tell you how long it may take.

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What Is a Pediatric Surgeon?

Pediatric surgeons specialize in performing surgeries on children and young adults. They have similar surgery training to all other surgeons, but they require a degree of specialization to work with younger patients. Because pediatric surgeons work with vulnerable patients, they need a unique skillset that helps them to communicate clearly with children and teenagers and to create a safe environment for their patients to receive what will likely be very frightening medical treatment. Pediatric surgeons should be aware that while this job can be highly rewarding, it can also be emotionally challenging.

How to Become a Pediatric Surgeon

Have you been thinking, ''I want to be a pediatric surgeon''? Pediatric surgeon education and training is highly specialized and prepares these professionals to diagnose and treat a range of diseases, injuries, and deformities in children and adolescents through surgery. Individuals interested in how to become a pediatric surgeon generally need to complete the following:

  • Undergraduate school
  • Medical school from an accredited institution
  • Surgery residency
  • Pediatric surgery residency
  • Licensure

We'll explore pediatric surgeon education requirements and licensure in more detail below, as the requirements for this profession are extensive.

Step 1: Undergraduate Education

All surgeons begin their education path by earning a bachelor's degree. Although there is no specific major requirement for becoming a surgeon, it is helpful for students to pursue a pre-med program or to choose other programs that meet medical school entrance requirements.

Pre-med programs are commonly paired with majors in areas like chemistry, biology, biomedical science, or another science-related field. These programs help students prepare for medical school by completing prerequisites in subjects like:

  • Biology
  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry

Step 2: Medical School

After earning their bachelor's degree, aspiring surgeons need to take the MCAT exam and apply to medical school. Undergraduates in a pre-med program should begin studying for the MCAT long before they graduate, as the examination is highly detailed and challenging. At this point, students may begin searching for schools that align with the kind of doctor they wish to be and find programs that offer coursework and training for prospective pediatric surgeons.

Medical schools typically award either a MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. Students in these programs spend time completing coursework, laboratories, and clinical rotations to begin exploring various areas of medicine. Coursework generally includes the study of different systems and areas of the body, such as the nervous system and respiratory system, and may include other topics in areas like:

  • Genetics
  • Ethics
  • Pharmacology
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Patient safety

Step 3: General Surgery Schooling

After medical school, all aspiring physicians and surgeons must complete a residency program in their area of specializations. For pediatric surgeons, this means first completing a residency program in general surgery. These residency programs usually include a wide range of clinical rotations to expose students to various types of surgery and equip them with the necessary surgical skills to perform the surgeries. These programs may also include research opportunities in the field.

Step 4: Pediatric Surgeon Schooling

Once they have completed their general surgery residency, students can complete a pediatric surgery residency or fellowship. These programs are typically shorter in length than general surgery residencies and help train students in pre- and post-operative care of children. Students in these programs have the opportunity to work in inpatient and outpatient settings and participate in research. During the fellowship program students are exposed to all major topics in pediatric surgery, such as:

  • Pediatric oncology
  • Neonatology
  • Pediatric urology
  • Pediatric radiology
  • Mortality
  • Pediatric surgical pathology

Step 5: Licensure/Board Certification

All physicians and surgeons must obtain national licensure through the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) for DOs. Although certification is not required, the American Board of Surgery offers board certification for pediatric surgeons through Pediatric Surgery Qualifying and Certifying Exams. Board certification may increase employment opportunities.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pediatric Surgeon?

Just how many years of college does it take to be a pediatric surgeon? The time it takes to become a pediatric surgeon depends on the specific degree programs, schools, and program formats chosen by the student. In general, if a student completes a traditional 4-year bachelor's degree program, 4-year medical school program, two-year to five-year general surgery residency, and a one-year to two-year pediatric surgery residency, it may take 11 to 15 years to become a pediatric surgeon.

Pediatric Surgeon Salary and Job Outlook

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report specifically on pediatric surgeons. However, they do report on surgeons in general and pediatricians in general. In May of 2019, the BLS reported that surgeons received an annual median wage of $207,720, which is high even among medical professionals. Surgery as a job field is expected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029, which is about average for all jobs in the United States.

Pediatricians, on the other hand, made a median annual wage of $175,310 as of May, 2019. Their job outlook was also projected at 4% by 2029. The actual wage that pediatric surgeons will receive will generally be closer to that of surgeons, but it is useful to keep the pediatrician statistics in mind, particularly for those who decide at some point during their education that they would prefer working as a general pediatrician than working as a pediatric surgeon.

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