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How to Become a Pediatrician

May 16, 2022
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How Hard is it to Become a Pediatrician?Becoming a Pediatrician: Step by StepWhat are the Responsibilities of a Pediatrician?How to Become a Pediatrician: FAQs


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 4/13/22

Interested in how to become a pediatrician, how long it takes, and how difficult it is to become one? We answer these questions to help you start your journey in pediatric care.

If you’re passionate about both medicine and working with children, becoming a pediatrician could be the right career for you. Pediatricians have the unique responsibility of caring for children ranging from infancy to teens, making this career diverse and rewarding. Read on to learn how to become a pediatrician.

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How Hard Is It to Become a Pediatrician?

Becoming a pediatrician typically takes around 11 to 12 years. Subspecializing takes even longer. This decade-plus worth of work involves late-night studying, 16-hour shifts, and the pressure to maintain a high GPA. What’s even more pressurizing is that you’re given responsibility in the lives of young people by the third year of medical school. Working with sick children can be emotionally taxing, and it can take effort to develop the strategies to cope with this. 

So, in summary, yes, it is hard to become a pediatrician. But if you’re passionate about this field, it is worth it. Fostering the health and well-being of children is extremely rewarding, and the impact you leave on the lives of family and society as a whole is immeasurable. 

While you will treat patients for acute illnesses, you also will most likely have the opportunity to follow children and their families long-term. During that time, you can employ preventative medicine and encourage healthy habits in children that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

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Becoming a Pediatrician: Step-by-Step

Below we’ve outlined the six major steps of becoming a pediatrician. While each of these steps is a significant time commitment, they are doable when you have a clear idea of what’s required of you.

Infographic outlining the 6 steps to becoming a pediatrician

1) Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a pediatrician is earning a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes three to four years. It is recommended that you major in something related to pediatrics, such as biology or child psychology. 

Doing so will not only prepare you for the MCAT (more below) and the first couple of years of medical school but will help you determine if this path interests you. However, as long as you take the necessary prerequisites, your major most likely will not make a difference in your application. 

Maintaining a high GPA of 3.5 or higher is recommended to ensure a solid candidacy for medical school. Extracurricular activities, job shadowing physicians, and internships will also help strengthen your application. This type of effort outside of class will also help you decide if medical school is right for you.

An example of one of many internship programs you could check out is the University of Alabama’s Preparation for Graduate and Medical Education. PARAdiGM for short, this funded summer program is for exceptional undergraduate students from underrepresented minority backgrounds who are interested in becoming physician-scientists. 

2) Apply to Medical School

You’ve just obtained your bachelor’s degree, or have been working for a few years, or maybe even just completed graduate school. Whatever your path, you’ve decided that medical school is right for you and are taking the leap to apply.

Application requirements differ depending on the school, but most US medical schools require that you complete the MCAT. Schools will strongly consider your score on this test, which should be no lower than 511.

Your application will most likely also ask for your transcript, letters of recommendation, and a description of your extracurriculars. If the initial phase of your application is successful, you will be asked for interviews with faculty members. 

3) Complete Medical School

You’ve been accepted into medical school and are ready to start your first real training on becoming a pediatrician! Medical school is typically four years, in which the first half is the pre-clinical phase. During this time, you will spend most of your day in the classroom and laboratories learning basic medical concepts such as psychology, physiology, genetics, pharmacology, and more.

The clinical phase starts in your third year and primarily offers hands-on experience working with patients in clinics and hospitals. This is when you’ll experience what the day in the life of a medical professional practically looks like. Your clinical rotations will include pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, and more.  

You will also be required to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) during medical school. This three-step examination will grant you your medical licensure and is required to apply to U.S. residency programs.

4) Complete a Residency Program in Pediatrics 

After two years of clinical rotations, you can see yourself becoming a pediatrician and promoting the health and well-being of newborns to young adults. In the U.S., you will use the Electronic Residency Application Service to apply to pediatric residency programs. This usually requires letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and documents outlining your experience.

Pediatric residency programs are typically three years in length and are where you will develop specialized skills in pediatric medicine under the supervision of physicians. Residency will introduce you to pediatric emergency medicine, behavioral pediatrics, neonatal care, and more.

5) Complete an Optional Subspeciality

After completing residency, you have the option to subspecialize in an area of pediatrics, such as pediatric cardiology, adolescent medicine, pediatric neurology, and more. Subspecialties typically range from two to four years in length

6) Become Licensed and Board-certified

After completing residency, you can apply for a medical license and become board certified. To become fully licensed, you must pass the American Board of Internal Medicine’s certification exam

Upon becoming licensed and board-certified, you can look forward to working in a hospital, clinic, or private practice. 

What Do Pediatricians Do?

Pediatricians generally provide medical care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They are intensively trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of illnesses. 

There are many different types of pediatricians. General pediatricians work in private practices, clinics, or hospitals, providing primary care from infancy onwards. This includes preventive care and monitoring physical and mental development. Examples of day-to-day responsibilities include administering vaccines, doing physical exams, creating diagnostic and treatment plans for children with chronic illnesses, and more. 

After their main residency training, some pediatricians subspecialize in a particular field and will spend their days primarily focusing on their specialty. Pediatric cardiologists, for instance, are trained to become experts in heart conditions in children.

How to Become a Pediatrician: FAQs

Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about becoming a pediatrician.

1. What Type of Person Should Become a Pediatrician?

A pediatrician should be someone who loves and has the skill set to work with children. This includes having patience, compassion, and excellent problem-solving and communication skills. You’ll need to be able to communicate both with children, who may not be able to express their needs like an adult can, and with parents, who can be highly anxious about their children’s health.

While becoming a pediatrician can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very emotionally taxing. You should ask yourself if you think you can handle working with sick children day in and day out. 

2. What Are the Best Schools for Pediatric Residency Programs?

The pediatric programs of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the University of Cincinnati rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively in the U.S. in 2022.

3. What Are the Salary Prospects for Pediatricians?

In 2020, pediatricians in the U.S. had a median salary of $177,130. It is currently ranked #10 among the best-paying jobs in the U.S.

4. Are Pediatricians in Demand?

Yes. The demand for pediatricians is expected to grow by 15.2% from 2016 to 2026.

5. What Are Some Undergraduate Courses you Should Take to Become a Pediatrician? 

While your major does not matter, you must take the courses required by your medical schools of choice, such as certain biology and chemistry classes. Other than those, it can be helpful to take courses relating to pediatrics to help gauge if this path is right for you and to give you a good foundation when going into medical school. Consider taking child psychology and development courses, for instance.

6. What Are the Pediatric Subspecialties?

There are 19 major pediatric subspecialties, including adolescent medicine, cardiology, child abuse, dermatology, neonatology, and emergency medicine.

Final Thoughts 

As a pediatrician, you have the rewarding responsibility of helping children and their families every day. The positive impact of pediatric care doesn’t stop once a person enters adulthood but often lasts a lifetime. While the path to pediatrics is by no means an easy one, a positive outlook, dedication, and a clear idea of what’s expected from you can make your dream a reality.

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