How to Become a Pediatrician

October 11, 2023
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

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

Reviewed: 10/11/23

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

Becoming a pediatrician could be the right career if you’re passionate about medicine and working with children. Pediatricians have the special responsibility of caring for children from infancy to teens, making this career diverse and rewarding. Read on to learn more about the requirements pediatricians must fulfill!

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What Do Pediatricians Do?

The role of a pediatrician is to provide medical care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They’re 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. This includes preventive care and monitoring physical and mental development.

pediatrician looking after a child

Examples of day-to-day responsibilities include: 

  • Administering vaccines
  • Doing physical exams
  • Creating diagnostic and treatment plans for children with chronic illnesses

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

Steps to Becoming a Pediatrician

Below we’ve outlined six major steps to becoming a pediatrician. While each of these steps is a significant time commitment, it’s best to know 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’s recommended that you major in something related to pediatrics, such as biology or child psychology. 

Doing so helps you prepare for the MCAT, your first two years of medical school, and helps you confirm your interests. However, as long as you take the necessary prerequisites, your major doesn’t make much difference.

Maintaining a high GPA of 3.5 or higher is recommended to help you become a more competitive candidate. You should also seek experiences such as: 

  • Extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership
  • Physician shadowing 
  • Research experience
  • Internships and paid/unpaid clinical experience

These efforts outside class strengthen your application and show your commitment to the medical field. 

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 interested in becoming physician-scientists. 

2) Apply to Medical School

Whether you have just finished college, have been working for years, or have finished graduate school, the next step is to apply to medical school. Application requirements differ depending on the school, but most schools require MCAT scores. Aim for a score above 511, the average score of entering M.D. students. 

You’ll also need to provide letters of recommendation and a description of your extracurriculars. If the initial phase of your application is successful, you’ll be invited to an interview.

3) Complete Medical School

Once accepted into medical school, you’re ready to start your first real training on becoming a pediatrician! Medical school is typically four years long; the first half is the pre-clinical phase. During this time, you’ll spend most of your time in the classroom and laboratories learning basic medical concepts such as: 

  • Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology

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

You’re required to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) during medical school. This three-step examination grants you 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 and graduation, you’re ready to begin a residency. You’ll use the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) to apply to pediatric residency programs. You’ll provide letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and documents outlining your experience.

The length of a pediatric residency is typically three years long. You’ll develop specialized skills in pediatric medicine under the supervision of physicians. Residency introduces 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
  • Pediatric Sports Medicine
  • Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Subspecialties typically range from two to four years long. The specialized knowledge you gain in these programs can help you pursue specific pediatric career paths. 

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.

Skills Needed to Be a Pediatrician

Below are the essential skills for a pediatrician:

  • Medical knowledge: Pediatricians must possess a strong foundation of medical knowledge specific to pediatric medicine, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and diseases common to children. Continual learning and staying updated with advancements in the field are crucial.
  • Communication skills: Effective communication is vital when interacting with children, parents, and other healthcare professionals. Pediatricians must be able to convey complex medical information in an understandable and empathetic manner while actively listening to patients and their families.
  • Empathy and compassion: Working with children requires high empathy and compassion. Pediatricians must be able to connect with young patients and their families, understand their concerns, fears, and emotions, and provide support and reassurance.
  • Problem-solving skills: Pediatricians encounter many medical conditions and symptoms, requiring accurate diagnosis and treatment decisions. Strong problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, and the ability to make sound clinical judgments are essential.
  • Decision-making abilities: Pediatricians must be able to make critical decisions, often under time constraints, assessing risks and benefits while considering each child's unique needs and circumstances. Sound judgment and the ability to prioritize effectively are important.
  • Adaptability and flexibility: Pediatric medicine can be unpredictable and dynamic. Pediatricians should be adaptable to changing situations, able to handle emergencies, and flexible in adjusting their approach to different patients and conditions.

These skills and a genuine passion for working with children contribute to becoming a skilled and compassionate pediatrician.

How Hard Is It to Become a Pediatrician?

The work involved in becoming a pediatrician includes late-night studying, long 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 takes effort to develop coping strategies. So, in summary, it’s hard to become a pediatrician. But if you’re passionate about this field, it’s worth it. 

Fostering the health and well-being of children is extremely rewarding, and the impact you leave on the lives of families is immeasurable. 

Pediatrcian with patient

While treating patients for acute illnesses, you’ll likely follow up with children and their families long-term. During that time, you can employ preventative medicine and encourage healthy habits in children.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pediatrician? 

The time required to become a pediatrician is approximately 11 to 15 years, depending on your timeline: 

  • Earning your bachelor’s degree: four years 
  • Attending medical school: four years 
  • Completing a pediatric residency: three to four years 
  • Pursuing an optional fellowship: two to four years 

However, it can take longer if you take gap years before college or medical school. You may be able to shorten your timeline if you use AP credits to fulfill introductory course requirements or if you attend a three-year MD program.

FAQs: Becoming a Pediatrician

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

1. Who 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 communication skills. 

You’ll need to communicate with children, who may not be able to express their needs, and with parents who can be highly anxious about their children’s health.

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

The top three pediatric programs are the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Cincinnati, and Harvard University.

3. What Are the Salary Prospects for Pediatricians?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary of pediatricians is $203,240. It’s currently ranked #9 among the best-paying jobs in the U.S.

4. What Is the Job Outlook For Pediatricians?

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

5. What Is the Best Major to Become a Pediatrician?

While your major doesn’t matter, you must take the courses required by your medical schools of choice, such as biology and chemistry classes. Other than those, taking courses related to pediatrics can be helpful. 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. These subspecialties open doors to multiple pediatric career paths. 

7. What Degree Is Needed to Be a Pediatrician? 

Before applying to a pediatric residency, you need a bachelor’s degree and an M.D. or D.O. from medical school. 

8. Where Do Pediatricians Work?

Pediatricians can work in many medical settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practice
  • Clinics
  • Medical centers
  • Research institutions
  • Public health agencies

It's important to note that the specific work settings of a pediatrician can vary depending on their specialization, career goals, and personal preferences.

9. What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Pediatrician?

The education requirements to become a pediatrician include: 

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O) degree
  • Residency
  • Fellowship (optional)
  • Licensing and certification

Pediatrician training and education are crucial and can take up to 13 years to complete. 

10. How Long Is a Pediatrics Residency?

A pediatrics residency typically lasts for three years in the United States. During these three years, residents receive comprehensive training in various aspects of pediatric medicine, including general pediatrics and subspecialties.

11. Is Being a Pediatrician Stressful?

Being a pediatrician can be both rewarding and challenging, but it does come with sources of stress. Pediatricians are responsible for caring for children's health, making critical decisions, and communicating with parents, which can be emotionally difficult. 

However, many pediatricians find their work fulfilling, as they have the opportunity to impact children's lives positively. Practicing self-care, seeking support, and maintaining a work-life balance can help mitigate stress in this field.

Final Thoughts 

Now that you know how to become a pediatrician, you can look forward to 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 not easy, a positive outlook, dedication, and a clear idea of what’s expected from you can make your dream a reality.

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