Becoming a Pediatrician: THE BOTTOM LINE!

Many high school and college students are eager to learn more about what is involved in becoming a pediatrician. Of all of the inquiries we get at YourPediatrician.com, this is one of the most common questions we receive. 

Below is an outline of educational requirements, our personal recommendations, and personal characteristics required to become a pediatrician. 

Be sure to check out Getting Into Medical School: THE BOTTOM LINE!  
A Day In The Life of a Pediatrician and Characteristics of a Pediatrician

General - As a Pediatrician, you will ALWAYS be learning!
After high school, you need 4 years of undergraduate courses at a college or university (which will get you a BS, BA, or other Bachelor's degree). After completing college, you will need to attend 4 years of Medical School (which will get you an MD or DO degree). After this, you are a "general" doctor. Most of the time, these new doctors go on to learn a specialty in medicine, such as pediatrics. This entails at least 3 more years of "Residency" training (the first year of residency was formerly called an "Internship"). In the case of pediatrics, the training of residency is 3 years. After completing these 3 years, you are now a pediatrician and are "eligible" to become "certified" in pediatrics by passing a rigorous test that deals with medical conditions related to infants and children. This is the ultimate goal of a pediatrician's training.

Bottom line: 4 years college + 4 years medical school + 3 years of residency = 11 years (after high school).

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High School - this is where it really begins. 
Classes: Basic Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus if possible).
Humanities (English, a foreign language - we'd recommend Spanish)
Get involved in high school charity organizations, like the Key Club, and extracurricular programs like student government, music programs, and sports.
Plan to get into the best 4-year college your grades allow. The better (and thus the harder) the more likely you are to get into medical school. It generally doesn't matter whether it is a big school or small school - just a good school.

Bottom Line: Develop good study habits and be involved!

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College- makes you or breaks you!
Most students take a "Premed" curriculum - which includes some basic science courses. Most colleges have a "Premed" advisor - a professor who you are linked with who helps guide those students interested in going on to medical school in their course choices, major choices, etc. Although some universities have a "Premed" major, most allow you to major in ANY area of your interest. Music majors, Philosophy majors, and English majors often make the best medical school candidates (meaning you don't need a "Premed" major, Chemistry major or Biology major). You simply need to fulfill the basic science course requirements that most medical schools recommend. These include:
Biology - 1-2 courses of basic, 1 course of genetics, 1 course of microbiology, 1 course of molecular biology.
Chemistry - 1-2 courses in basic, 1-2 courses of Organic Chemistry.
Physics - 1 course in basic.
Math - 2 courses in calculus.

Medical schools LOVE to see volunteer activities during college - such as Circle K, volunteering at your local hospital or homeless shelter, etc. It is important to show you have an interest in the medical field by working in some manner around medical people - whether it is getting a summer job in a pharmacy or in a nursing home as a nurse's aide.

Sometime in your Junior or early Senior year in college you will need to prepare and take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), which tests your abilities in the natural sciences. It is much like the SAT is for college entrance…but much harder! Good scores on this test don't guarantee entrance into medical school, but it certainly helps you out (see How To Get Into Medical School:  THE BOTTOM LINE!).

Bottom Line: Be sure you are up for the challenge of medical school by taking on the challenge to do well in college - and you must do well!

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Medical School (or Medical College) - you've made it!
Once you are in medical school, almost 99% of the time, you will complete the program and become a doctor. The first two years are focused on basic medical sciences, like human anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, neuroanatomy, etc. The second two years focus on clinical sciences, where you start to really get "hands-on" experience with patients. These courses include Internal Medicine, Radiology, Cardiology, Surgery, Emergency Medicine, OB/GYN, etc. (and Pediatrics!).

Sometime during your 3rd or 4th year of medical school, you will decide on a specialty area of medicine. Specialties are divided into "Primary Care" specialties, like Family Practice, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics; and "Subspecialty Care", like surgery, orthopedics, cardiology, neurosurgery, gastroenterology, etc. Your exposure to these fields during your 3rd and 4th years will give you direction and confirmation as to whether Pediatrics is indeed your best choice. 

Bottom Line: You learn more than you ever thought you could learn!

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Once done with Medical School, you are now officially a doctor. Your skills will now be refined, and if you choose Pediatrics, you will enjoy the wonderful and challenging world of dealing with and treating children. 

This will be the most difficult 3 years of your training, and likely, of your life! You start becoming more and more responsible for the care of patients -often extremely sick patients in the hospital with the most severe types of illnesses. In Pediatrics, be prepared to not only deal with fun children, but children that are ill, often severely so; be prepared to deal with anxious parents - some rightly so, others unrightly so - regardless, you must deal with them professionally and compassionately. 

Your heart will be tugged, torn, and broken: tugged by the courage that children show when faced with needles, surgery, and spinal taps; torn by having to witness the unconditional devotion that parents have in loving their children through their illnesses, and sometimes through their death; and broken by children that don't always survive their illness. 

Along with the emotional challenges you will face, there will be physical challenges as well. Expect long hours, 80-100 hours per week, minimum wage salaries (at least you start to get paid in residency instead of paying tuition), time away from your family, and little time for social life outside of your workplace. 

It is challenging - but you will learn the skills necessary to become comfortable and competent in providing care to sick children of all degrees. You will develop confidence that you thought you'd never have, and an unmatched respect for the miracle of life and the power of love. 

And finally, you may wish to sub-specialize - 2 or more years of "Fellowship" training beyond Residency to focus your pediatric medical skills - READ MORE!

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College - 4 years: $ 40,000 - $160,000 total
Medical School - 4 years: $160,000 - $220,000 total

Bottom Line: It costs lots and lots of money!

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Residency - $45,000-$55,000/year
Starting after Residency - $140,000-$200,000
Average Pediatrician - $225,000
Range - $100,000 (part time) - $400,000 (very busy)

YourPediatrician.com's Pediatric Career Center

Steven J. Halm, DO, FAAP, FACP
YourPediatrician.com, Inc

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