How to Become a Pediatrician: Job Description, Education & Career Information


So, you want to know how to become a pediatrician, huh? Are you up for the all nighters that you’ll have to pull in med school? What about the double shifts that you’ll have to endure as a resident? Oh, how do you feel about bodily fluids and bed pans? If you’re good with all of those things, then we suggest you keep on reading along as we tell you all you need to know to become a pediatrician. If you’re not up for the challenges that come along with working towards a career as a pediatrician, suck it up and keep reading anyway!

How to Become a Pediatrician

How to Become a Pediatrician As a pediatrician you will be the first point of contact for sick children from birth until they reach adulthood at 18. As a doctor that specializes in the care of young people, you will see a lot of illnesses like strep throat, chicken pox, common colds, the flu and your fair share of other viral infections.

Sick kids aren’t going to be the only patient pool to fish from though. You will also have patients come to see you for well visits. These visits will consist of immunizations, height and weight checks and evaluations of the patients social, mental, emotional and developmental health.

So, the question that brought us together today is: how to become a pediatrician. This is a very good question and you are very lucky today because we just so happen to have the answer. Ready to find out what’s in store for you if you decide that a career as a pediatrician is for you? Great! Let’s get started!

Go to School for a Bachelor’s Degree

Step one towards becoming a pediatrician is earning a bachelor’s degree at the school of your choice. There isn’t a specific field of study that you have to earn an undergraduate degree in, but medical schools do like to take on new students that already have all of the pre-med classes wrapped up with good grades.

A little way to make sure that you have all of those classes under your hat already, is to work on undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, physics and even mathematics. Selecting one of these majors is a really effective way to ensure that all of your pre-med classes are done, especially since they are all within the areas of study that we just mentioned.

You can take the MCAT exam towards the end of your time in as an undergraduate students. Be prepared to study really hard for it though because the exam is by no means a cake walk. There will be sections that test your knowledge of physical science, biology, cognitive skills and reasoning skills. Upon passing this beast of an exam, you will be able to apply to medical school and move onto the next step in becoming a pediatrician.

Earn a Medical Degree

Step 2 is when things start to get really heavy for those aspiring to become pediatricians. During your first 2 years of medical school you will hang out in the classroom for the most part. This time is very important because this is when you will learn all about medical procedures, systems of the body and how they work, diseases and load of other information that will ultimately help you to become an awesome pediatrician.

The second portion of your time in medical school will be spent gaining hands on experience during clinical rotations. During this time, you will work with patients closely, but under the direct an hawk eyed supervision of licensed and board certified physicians You’re still a baby bird that’s not quite ready to leave the nest, so being babysat is par for the course.

During your clinical practice, you’ll participate in rotations in different areas. You’ll spend time in internal medicine, neurology, cardiology, psychiatry, obstetrics and of course pediatrics. Spending time in each of these different disciplines is the best way to see where your interest lie and if you’re cut out for pediatrics.

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The Grueling Days as a Resident Begin

A pediatric residency will take you three years to complete and during this time, you have the awesome benefit of only having eyes for kiddos that are in need of medical attention. Residency provides the most hands on experience outside of being a full fledged doctor. You will be able to participate in case studies, patient treatment, procedures and ultimately work in the ideal setting for a pediatrician. You’ll spend time working in general pediatrics for the most part, but there will be opportunities to treat newborns and children that have specific health issues that require specialized care or surgery.

Get Your Medical License – You’ve Earned It

Finally, after all the years in school, through clinical trials and after enduring many sleepless nights as a resident – you are ready to get your medical license. Every state requires pediatricians to get a license through the licensing board in the state that you intend to work as a pediatrician in. Each state licensing is a little bit different and may require you to jump through different hoops to earn the official title of doctor. You will definitely be required to send in the transcripts from your education along with proof of your clinical rotations and residency training. You will also have to successfully complete and pass the three, hard as nails sections of the USMLE.

Board Certification Bound

Becoming board certified is another important part of becoming a pediatrician. Board certification is optional, but we definitely can see the benefits of having this certification behind your name. You’ll already have the required medical training on your resume, so all you’ll need to do is ace the 300 to 350 question exam.

Keep Up With Your Certifications

You definitely want to stay on top of your certifications and the best way to do that is by continuing to learn well after you are done with school, clinical rotations and residency. The American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Medical Specialties have been looking out for pediatricians and the need to stay up-to-date on the latest and the greatest progress that has been made in pediatric medicine. Completing one of the four part programs that were developed is a great way to continue your professional education. Do keep in mind that you will have to take another exam every 10 years to make sure your skills are still scalpel sharp.

Where Does a Pediatrician Work?

Pediatricians most commonly work in private offices with support staff that is comprised of nurses, medical assistants, clerical staff and maybe even an additional pediatrician that you can partner up with. You may also work in hospitals and clinics or health departments in your community. You’ll more than likely work a full time schedule that is relatively consistent, but there will be times when your days run long or you have to check on patients that may be hospitalized on days that you’d normally be off.

Special Fields Pediatricians Can Pursue

There are several specialty areas of pediatrics that you can work in if you are interested in branch out from general pediatrics. Here are some areas you may find interesting:

Neonatology

All of those itty bitty babies that are born prematurely or that have health issues need someone to be their champions and that is the job of a neonatologist. It is common for neonatologists to be present for and even assist in the birth of a baby that is known to have severe health issues while in utero or if a baby is thought to have a birth defect. There is a good hunk of extra schooling required for neonatologists in order to really train properly for this difficult pediatric specialty.

Pediatric Geneticist

If the study of genetics has always fascinated you, but you’ve always really wanted to work in pediatrics – no problemo! You can combine both passions and become a pediatric geneticist. It will take about eight years of hardcore, eye to the microscope training as well as two different types of board certification to get going, but once you do it will be glorious. This is a field of pediatrics that deals with some heavy subject matter as the results of the tests that you will perform may crush parents. It’s never fun to tell someone that their child may be socially or developmentally impacted by a genetic disorder. There is of course the added blow of having to inform parents of a bad prognosis, but you will be a huge help to the children you diagnose.

Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Children with emotional, learning, developmental and behavioral issues need someone to be help them and understand what is going on inside those little bodies and brains. This is when developmental and behavioral pediatricians step up to the plate. This pediatric specialty is similar to the practice of child psychiatry, but varies enough to have it’s own title. You will be able to help children that have motor skills and developmental delays, speech delays and developmental disabilities that require extensive treatments

Pediatric Pulmonology

In pediatric pulmonology you will be able to treat children that have breathing issues or issues with their lungs. It takes four years of graduate school and an additional five years of residency to fully prepare for the difficult task of treating kids with lung issues and illnesses. You’ll spend a lot of time treating children with asthma, cystic fibrosis and any other breathing related issues that require care and monitoring.

Pediatric Neurology

Pediatric neurologists specialize in the little noggins and nervous systems of children. There is a lot of additional training involved in the process of becoming a pediatric neurologists, which is understandable and expected when you consider the sensitive nature of the brain. You will treat patients that have epilepsy, various types of seizures, brain tumors, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, migraines, speech delays and various forms of mental handicaps.

Pediatric Oncology

Unfortunately, blood diseases and cancer are a part of life for some babies, children and teenagers. Illnesses and diseases like leukemia, brain, bone and body tumors as well as diseases of the blood cells don’t discriminate when it comes to age. Stepping in to act in the patient’s best interest to help diagnose and treat the patients will be your job as a pediatric oncologists. Having spent some time with some great doctors in this field, we can tell you that it is one of the hardest specialties to work in, but one that is very rewarding.

Qualities of a Great Pediatrician

We are sure that you are considering becoming a pediatrician because you enjoy working with kids and you want to aid in their health and well-being. There are some things that you can do that will help you to become the great doctor that you want to be. Let’s find out what some of the qualities of a great pediatrician are now!

  • Caring, sincere and empathetic: Having a good bedside manner is super important and one of the most important things that will contribute to your status as a great pediatrician. Showing your young patients that you are a caring person, that you understand how they are feeling and that you are sincere in your actions to give them the best care possible. Showing your warm and attentive nature will put your patients and their caregivers at ease.
  • Open and Receptive: Listening to your patients, no matter how old they are, is a great way to develop a trusting relationship. The same can be said for listening to their parents when they express concerns or fears. As a pediatrician, you are kind of acting as a member of the family team and if you give off that open and receptive vibe to patients and caregivers, you will get it right back.
  • Be Knowledgeable and Share the Information: A knowledgeable pediatrician is often a great pediatrician. It’s your job as a doctor to stay informed and on top of the latest goings on in the medical community and to share the information when it’s appropriate. When your patient or their parent asks you a question, try to do your best to answer them in a manner that they can understand. Educating them is arming them with the tools needed to have healthy lives.
  • Make Yourself Available: You knew this when you signed up for the job, but we’re going to tell you again anyhow. Being a pediatrician is a full time job and you will likely be on call more often than not, especially if you have your own private practice. It’s great if you keep your office hours at regular times and on the appropriate days of the week. Try to return phone calls in a timely manner to ensure that your patient is taken care of. If you are feeling super generous, you can even have allow office visits after hours and on weekends on occasion. This is helpful and very appreciated by working parents that may have scheduling conflicts during regular office hours.
  • Value Everyone’s Time: One of the most frustrating things for parents is when they take a sick child to the pediatrician and arrive on time, but are stuck in a busy waiting room or cold exam room for a long time. You’ll want your patients to be on time for their appointments, so pay it forward and keep things flowing properly when possible.

Pediatrician Salary

As a pediatrician, you are going to be sneezed on, puked on and possibly pooped on by some of your patients. Don’t you want to know if the pay is at least worth the constant flow of bodily fluid that comes from those preciously gross little patients of yours? We figured you would, so we came prepared with the most up-to-date salary information out there for pediatricians.

According to our BFF’s at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary that was reportedly earned in this field is $157,610. This is the most current data as of May 2013, but it does not account for any salary variations that may pop up as a result of employment location or the place of practice. It’s a bit too difficult to account for all of the different variable that may or may not impact the salary expectations with this career, so we will just stick with the median and call it a day.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does have a lot of great graphs on their website that are able to shed a bit more light on the different aspects of salaries and various figures pertaining to employment percentages. So, if you want to get a more in-depth look at this information click here to head over to the salary page for pediatricians.

Pediatrician Salary

Typical Day of a Pediatrician

We hit up YouTube, as we usually do for our career guides and lucked out with another great video. We found a great little clip from a pediatrician that works in a hospital on a daily basis and she talks a bit about what her days are like. We kind of wanted her to be our doctor too after watching it because she just seems super nice. Watch it, learn from it and keep on reading the rest of what we’ve got from you today. It’s what the doctor ordered, so you better follow instructions!

Final Grade

Ah, the time has come to give our final grades on the areas that we find important when considering a career. Just like your pediatrician told you when you were a kid and were about to get shots, this will only hurt for a second!

Degree vs. Debt: A

You definitely are going to rack up the students loans in the process of becoming a doctor, but you will make a pretty kick butt salary and shouldn’t have much of an issue paying off your debt.

Difficulty of Degree: C

If becoming a pediatrician was an easy thing, everyone would be doing it. It is not an easy accomplishment by any means and will take years of intense studying, many many many sleepless nights and likely several pairs of scrubs that fell victim to one type of bodily fluid or another. Sure, it’s hard and exhausting to become a pediatrician, but it’s also awesome to help children and their families during times that it is most needed.

Happiness Quotient: B

As a whole, pediatricians are said to be very satisfied with their jobs and wouldn’t change their profession, so we take it that the happiness quotient is pretty high. The only reason we didn’t give this section an A is because there are times when you will sadly experience the loss of a patient to an illness or disease or some other unforeseeable incident. Times like that make this career just plain old suck and there is really no other way to put it. Thankfully, you won’t experience something like that frequently and will enjoy your job more often than not.

Job Outlook: A

The population in our country is booming and with that comes more babies. Those babies will need medical attention throughout the span of childhood. Who better to provide that care than you? The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects there to be an 18% job growth between 2012 and 2022. This is great for growth in any career and is much faster than the average, so it looks like this is shaping up to be a good choice!

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Sources and Recommended Reading

If you’d like to do a bit of extra reading on how to become a pediatrician, then feel free to click away at the some of the helpful sites we recommend you look at. There’s bound to be some useful information for you and hopefully any remaining questions you have will be answered.

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