How to Become a Pediatric Surgeon: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a pediatric surgeon. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in pediatric surgery. View article »

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Video Transcript

Do I Want to Become a Pediatric Surgeon?

Pediatric surgeons examine and perform operations on young patients, from newborns to adolescents, in an effort to treat deformities, diseases, and injuries. They also counsel patients and their families in techniques for healthy lifestyles. Pediatric surgeons focus heavily on neonatal, prenatal, and trauma care, as well as pediatric oncology. Surgeons may be required to work on call for medical emergencies and can face long hours in high-stress environments.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Experience 3-8 years of residency and fellowship training is required after completion of medical school
Licensure and Certification Every surgeon is required to pass both state and national licensure exams; voluntary board certification in general surgery and pediatric surgery is available through the American Board of Medical Specialties and American Board of Surgery
Key Skills Communication, patience, organization, empathy, problem-solving, leadership, dexterity, physical stamina, and strong memorization skills
Salary (2015) $187,200 (Median annual salary for all surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Pediatric Surgical Association, American Board of Surgery

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Steps to Become a Pediatric Surgeon

Let's take a look at the steps required to become a pediatric surgeon:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Those who plan to go to medical school must first complete a bachelor's degree program. Though there is no specific undergraduate major recommended for medical school, the BLS notes that prospective medical school students should complete coursework in biology, English, math, physics, and inorganic and organic chemistry.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer. To learn more about the profession of surgery, some students volunteer at local hospitals or medical clinics. Volunteer experience also might be taken into consideration when applying to medical school.

Step 2: Apply to Medical School

Medical schools are highly selective. They consider undergraduate academic performance, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and personal characteristics when choosing applicants. Most schools ask applicants to interview with an admissions panel prior to acceptance. Applicants must also submit results from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This multiple-choice test is divided into four sections: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, writing, and biological sciences.

Success Tip:

  • Research the application process. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides information about the MCAT, as well as tips for applying to medical school.

Step 3: Earn a Medical Degree

Medical students devote their first two years to classroom lectures and lab work in the sciences, from anatomy to pathology. Students also take courses in related topics, including legal aspects of medicine and medical ethics. The next two years typically are spent working with patients. Under the supervision of experienced doctors, students learn about the many aspects of patient care. They also participate in rotations in areas like family practice, internal medicine, gynecology, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery.

Step 4: Complete a Residency and Fellowship

Medical school graduates must complete a residency in one of numerous medical specialties. Medical students typically select a specialty and a preferred location during their fourth year of medical school and are then matched to a residency program.

Residents generally spend between three and eight years training in their specialty. Those planning to be pediatric surgeons usually spend approximately five years in a general surgical residency and an additional two years in a fellowship specializing in children's surgery.

Step 5: Become Licensed

Every U.S. state requires doctors to be licensed to practice medicine. To do so, medical school graduates must pass the 3-step United States Medical Licensing Examination. They must also meet any other requirements imposed by their respective state's medical board, which typically includes passing additional written and practical examinations.

Step 6: Become Board Certified

Once he or she has met licensure and experience requirements, a surgeon can apply for voluntary board certification through the American Board of Surgery (ABS). Applicants first must pass a qualifying exam, which consists of 300 multiple-choice questions and lasts approximately eight hours. To complete the certification process, applicants must pass an oral certifying exam, which is taken over three 30-minute sessions. Candidates go before a panel of two examiners who gauge and evaluate their clinical skills, overall abilities, and judgment.

After earning general surgery certification, pediatric surgeons might opt to become ABS-certified in pediatric surgery as well. The qualifying exam for pediatric surgery certification includes about 200 multiple-choice questions and lasts approximately five hours, while the certifying exam consists of five 30-minute oral sessions. A team of two examiners conducts the oral sessions, which cover topics crucial to the field, such as cancer and trauma care. Surgeons may also choose to become certified through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a voluntary credential demonstrating a surgeon's devotion to a specific area of surgical care.

Becoming a pediatric surgeon requires a bachelor's degree, a doctorate in medicine, completion of residency, obtaining a license, and becoming board certified.

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