How to Become a Pediatrician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for pediatricians. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Pediatrician Do?

Pediatricians are medical doctors or osteopathic doctors who specialize in treating children. They perform many of the same duties as a physician, including reviewing medical histories, ordering diagnostic tests if needed and recommending treatment plans. However, they are specially trained to diagnose and treat conditions that are common or unique to infants, children and teens. They also administer vaccinations, treat minor injuries and advise parents on proper health care for their child's age. Pediatricians may choose to specialize in particular medical conditions found in young patients or in pediatric surgery. The following chart provides an overview about pediatrics as a career.

Degree Required Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required Residency in pediatrics
Key Responsibilities Examine, diagnose and treat children who may be ill or who have injuries, diseases or congenital conditions; maintain patient medical records; administer medications and vaccinations; make medical referrals
Licensing or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification in pediatrics is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%*
Median Salary (2014) $226,408*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What is a Pediatrician?

A pediatrician is a physician who specializes in treating babies, children, adolescents and young adults. As a pediatrician, you will treat illnesses and other health conditions, as well as provide preventative care. Conditions that you may diagnose and treat include genetic defects, behavioral difficulties and infections. You'll also help patients with injuries, diseases, developmental disorders and functional problems. Job duties may include examining patients, keeping records of patient histories and ordering diagnostic tests. Pediatricians also administer vaccinations, develop treatment plans and counsel patients regarding wellness.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To be admitted to medical school, you must complete premedical courses as an undergraduate. These courses include inorganic and organic chemistry, biology and physics. Since admission to medical school is highly competitive, you may have a better chance at acceptance if you earn a bachelor's degree, gain volunteer or paid clinical healthcare experience, participate in extracurricular activities and take on some leadership positions while in college. During your undergraduate study, you will prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is a requirement to get into most medical schools.

Step 2: Graduate From Medical School

You may complete four years of allopathic medical school to earn a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree, or you might complete four years of osteopathic medical school to earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Both programs prepare you to practice medicine as a pediatrician, but osteopathic programs place more emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and preventative medicine.

During medical school, you take two years of lecture and laboratory courses in the sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology and microbiology. Your final two years give you experience diagnosing and treating patients on clinical rotations. These rotations focus on various specialties, such as family practice, internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry and pediatrics.

Step 3: Earn a License

You must earn a license before you may practice medicine in the United States. Allopathic physicians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), while osteopathic physicians are required to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). Each 3-part exam tests candidates on basic science knowledge and the ability to apply this knowledge to the clinical practice of medicine.

Step 4: Complete a Pediatric Residency

After you graduate from medical school and earn your license, you must complete residency training in pediatrics. This training usually lasts for three years. During your residency, you complete clinical rotations in different pediatric sub-specialties, such as adolescent medicine, emergency medicine, endocrinology and cardiology. You may also attend lectures, conduct research and gain teaching experience.

Step 5: Consider Earning Board Certification

You may choose to earn board certification in pediatrics following completion of your residency, although this isn't required. Board certification shows patients that you hold a high level of competency in your chosen specialty. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) regulates the specialty certifying boards for allopathic physicians, while the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) regulates the specialty certifying boards for osteopathic physicians. Continuing education is required to maintain board certification.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some alternative careers that require a doctoral or professional degree include veterinarians, chiropractors and podiatrists. Veterinarians are trained in many of the same duties as medical doctors, but they diagnose and treat animals. They may specialize in small animals, like dogs and cats, or large animals, like livestock and horses. Chiropractors help treat patients' neck and back pain by addressing the muscles, nerves, tendons and bones in these areas. One way they accomplish this is through spinal adjustments. Podiatrists care for and diagnose problems in patients' feet, ankles or lower legs. They are also qualified to perform surgery in these areas, if necessary.

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