How to Become a Pediatrician

Updated on January 15, 2024

Introduction

Becoming a pediatrician takes many years of education and training, but helping children stay healthy is a rewarding career. First and foremost, aspiring pediatricians must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree, typically focusing on pre-med studies involving biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Next, they must complete four additional years of medical school and earn their M.D. or D.O. Following this foundation, pediatricians-in-training embark on a three-year residency program specifically focused on the healthcare of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. After residency, some pediatricians pursue additional subspecialty fellowship training lasting two to three more years. Pediatricians must pass rigorous national and state licensing exams to practice medicine. With dedication and perseverance, becoming a licensed pediatrician is an achievable goal for individuals devoted to caring for kids.

What is a Pediatrician?

A pediatrician is a medical doctor specializing in the care and treatment of infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatricians focus on the health needs of young patients from birth to early adulthood, typically up to age 21.

Duties and Responsibilities

Pediatricians have extensive training in working with babies, kids, teens, and their unique medical needs. Their main duties and responsibilities include:

Education and Training

Becoming a licensed pediatrician involves significant education and training over many years. After finishing a four-year undergraduate degree at an accredited university, aspiring pediatricians must complete:

It takes approximately 8+ years of training after college to become a practicing pediatrician. Key steps along the way provide extensive hands-on experience in pediatric wellness and treating childhood illnesses and conditions.

It takes approximately 8+ years of training after college to become a practicing pediatrician. Key steps along the way provide extensive hands-on experience in pediatric wellness and treating childhood illnesses and conditions.

What do Pediatricians do?

Pediatricians are doctors who specialize in the care and treatment of infants, children, and adolescents. Their main responsibilities include:

Educational Requirements

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step toward becoming a pediatrician is earning a bachelor’s degree at an accredited 4-year college or university. Common majors for aspiring pediatricians include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or pre-med. However, you can major in any field if you complete the prerequisite coursework required by medical schools, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Learn more about choosing an undergraduate major for medical school here.

Complete Medical School Pre-Requisites

Alongside your bachelor’s coursework, you must complete prerequisite courses for entry into medical school. Common pre-med requirements include biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, English, calculus, and statistics. Check the prerequisites of your desired medical schools, as requirements can vary. Learn more about common pre-med course requirements from this guide.

Earn a Competitive GPA and MCAT Score

You will need a strong academic record to get into medical school. Aim for the highest GPA possible in your bachelor’s program, ideally a 3.7 or higher. You must also take the MCAT entrance exam and earn a competitive score. The average MCAT score for students entering pediatric programs is typically over 510. Learn more about a competitive MCAT score.

Attend Medical School

The next step is to earn your medical degree (MD) by attending an accredited medical school for four years. The first two years focus on classroom instruction in areas like pathology, biochemistry, anatomy, psychology, and medical ethics. The final two years are devoted to clinical rotations, where you gain hands-on training across pediatric medicine and other specialties.

Postgraduate Training for Pediatricians

After completing medical school and obtaining their MD, future pediatricians must complete a 3-year pediatric residency program. This hands-on training prepares them to care for infants, children, and adolescents.

After finishing the initial 3-year residency, some pediatricians pursue additional subspecialty training through 1 to 3-year pediatric fellowship programs. These provide extensive training in a specific area of children’s medicine, allowing pediatricians to become experts in fields like:

After college, it takes about 11 years of education and practical training to become a general pediatrician. Those specializing in pediatric subspecialties complete up to 14 years of postgraduate education. However, with this extensive preparation, pediatricians gain the knowledge and skills to provide comprehensive care to meet children’s unique health needs.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Pediatrician

Becoming a pediatrician requires dedication, compassion, and specialized medical knowledge and skills. An effective pediatrician must be able to care for patients from birth through the late teen years, addressing a wide range of health issues from minor illnesses to complex chronic conditions. What makes someone a truly great pediatrician? Several key skills and personal qualities contribute to success in this demanding yet rewarding medical specialty.

Communication Skills

One of the most vital skills for any pediatrician is communication. Pediatricians must connect with young patients who are often afraid, anxious, or unable to articulate their symptoms fully. They must also communicate effectively with parents and caregivers to gather medical histories, explain conditions, provide treatment instructions, and offer reassurance. Strong listening skills, patience, and empathy help pediatricians gain the trust of families during stressful situations. The ability to break down complex medical terminology when explaining is also extremely valuable.

Medical and Technical Knowledge

While communication skills connect pediatricians with patients, medical and technical expertise equips them to accurately assess symptoms, diagnose conditions, and provide appropriate treatments. Pediatricians must complete four years of medical school. This intensive training provides extensive knowledge of childhood development, diseases, and pediatric care methods. Ongoing learning is also crucial to keep up with the latest medical research and technologies.

Analytical Thinking

The daily work of a pediatrician involves assessing subtle symptoms, weighing alternatives, and determining the best courses of treatment for each young patient. Strong analytical thinking skills enable pediatricians to integrate volumes of information and identify connections that lead to accurate diagnoses. Pediatricians must also decide when referrals to medical specialists are needed. Analyzing symptoms thoroughly and asking strategic questions during appointments both contribute to thoughtful, evidence-based care.

Attention to Detail

A meticulous, attentive approach is vital when evaluating children’s health. Subtle changes can signal underlying issues, so pediatricians must notice small details during patient assessments. Keeping thorough records with precise symptom descriptions, test results, measurements, and medication details provides an essential ongoing reference to track children’s progress properly over months and years. The ability to compile detailed patient histories and integrate many data points helps pediatricians provide each child with continuous, coordinated care.

Problem-Solving Ability

Medical mysteries and unpredictable situations are inevitable when working with children and teens. An adept pediatrician can draw on their expertise to solve puzzling health cases. They can pinpoint what additional tests or analyses may be warranted to get to the root cause of symptoms when a diagnosis remains elusive. Pediatricians also creatively identify ways to improve patient outcomes by tweaking medications, trying alternative treatments, or bringing in other specialists. Excellent problem-solving skills allow pediatricians to handle whatever challenges each day brings.

The most skilled and caring pediatricians blend comprehensive medical capabilities with thoughtful, individualized care for every young patient. If you possess strong communication abilities, unwavering dedication to children, and a passion for solving medical puzzles, a rewarding career as a pediatrician may be the right fit. Contact pediatric practices in your area to learn more about this specialized field.

Pediatrician Salary

ears of Experience Average Annual Salary
0-5 years $135,000 – $150,000
5-10 years $150,000 – $180,000
10-20 years $180,000 – $200,000
20+ years $200,000+

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Pediatricians have a wide range of career opportunities and room for advancement. After completing medical school and a 3-year pediatric residency program, newly trained pediatricians may choose to enter a primary care practice or continue their training in a pediatric specialty.

Primary Care

Many pediatricians opt to open their private practice or join a pediatric group practice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of all pediatricians worked in physician offices as of 2020. Joining an established pediatric group can provide new pediatricians with mentorship opportunities and a steady flow of patients. Opening a solo practice allows pediatricians the freedom to set their hours and manage their business operations. Some pediatricians in private practice settings choose to subspecialize in sports medicine, nutrition, or behavioral pediatrics to distinguish themselves in competitive markets.

Pediatricians may also work in community health centers and hospital outpatient clinics, providing well-child visits and treating common childhood illnesses. These types of facilities generally offer regular work schedules and opportunities to serve underserved populations.

Hospital Medicine

With the growth of hospital medicine as a specialty, many pediatricians now work primarily in inpatient hospital settings. According to the [American Academy of Pediatrics](https://www.aap.org/en-us/professional-resources/practice-transformation/getting-paid/Coding-at-the-AAP/Pages/Hospital-Medicine.aspx), full-time pediatric hospitalists earn salaries higher than primary care pediatricians on average while working fewer hours. Pediatricians who pursue a hospital medicine career path gain specialized experience treating complex illnesses and injuries in an interdisciplinary setting alongside other pediatric specialists.

Specialist Positions

For pediatricians who want to focus on treating specific childhood diseases and conditions, completing an additional 1-3 years of specialty training opens up more advanced career opportunities. Some of the most popular pediatric specialties include emergency medicine, critical care medicine, neonatology, oncology, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, pulmonology, and endocrinology. Pediatric specialists work in children’s hospitals, specialty treatment centers, and research hospitals. They earn among the highest salaries in the field and have opportunities to teach residents and medical students or participate in research. With extensive training and expertise in their specialty area, many pediatric specialists advance into influential leadership roles to shape policies, conduct impactful research, and improve standards of care.

Conclusion

In summary, becoming a pediatrician requires significant education and training, but it can be an incredibly rewarding career caring for children’s health. The road starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree, preferably with coursework in biology, chemistry, and child development, followed by four years of medical school and a three-year pediatric residency program. After passing licensing exams, you’ll be ready to start practicing as a pediatrician. With strong interpersonal skills, patience, and a passion for working with young patients, you have what it takes to thrive in this vital medical role. There is a growing need for pediatricians – the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a higher than average job growth rate in the coming years. If helping children live healthier lives sounds appealing, review the steps and requirements to pursue this meaningful career path.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Academy of Pediatrics aap.org
  • Details on pediatric residencies and fellowships
  • Overview of a career in pediatrics
Association of American Medical Colleges students-residents.aamc.org
  • Outlines how to match into a pediatric residency
  • Guides on choosing a subspecialty
American Board of Pediatrics abp.org
  • Certification requirements and process
  • Study resources for board exams

FAQs

What education is required to become a pediatrician?
To become a pediatrician, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, attend 4 years of medical school to earn your MD or DO, and then complete a 3-year pediatric residency program. The road to becoming a pediatrician takes at least 11 years of higher education. Most medical schools require applicants to take prerequisite courses such as biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, math, and English. Learn more about medical school prerequisites on the AAMC website [link to AAMC prereq info].

How much experience is needed to be a pediatrician?
Becoming a licensed pediatrician requires at least three years of hands-on experience during a pediatric residency. However, many pediatricians choose to complete additional years of subspecialty fellowship training to gain further expertise in areas like pediatric critical care, neonatology, pediatric surgery, or pediatric oncology. The experience gained during residency teaches pediatricians how to evaluate, diagnose, and treat conditions in infants, children, and adolescents.

What is the average salary for a pediatrician?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for pediatricians in the United States is $184,570 as of 2020. Pediatric salaries can vary based on geographic location, subspecialty, years of experience, and practice setting (private practice vs hospital). For example, pediatric critical care specialists earn an average of $234,729 annually. Learn more about pediatric physician salary statistics on Medscape.

What are some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a pediatrician?
Pediatricians are dedicated to children’s physical, emotional, and social health from birth through the late teen years. Responsibilities typically include well-child exams, childhood immunizations, diagnosing illnesses or infections, treating chronic conditions like asthma or ADHD, providing newborn care in the hospital, counseling families, and referring patients to specialists when needed. Pediatricians often need to explain treatment options and answer questions from concerned parents in an easy-to-understand manner.