If you’re a pre-med student or enrolled in medical school, you’re likely already pondering what kind of physician you want to be. For those who are passionate about working with babies, children, or teens, becoming a pediatrician might be top of mind. And considering that 95% of graduating pediatric residents say they would choose pediatrics again, according to the 2020 AAP Annual Survey of Graduating Residents, it’s an attractive career choice to explore.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a pediatrician, this guide can help you identify each of the major steps. But first, you might find it helpful to learn more about what these providers do on a daily basis.
What does a pediatrician do, exactly?
According to the pediatrician definition offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these physicians address the mental, physical, and social health of children from birth through adolescence. In addition to providing guidance related to healthy growth and development, pediatricians also diagnose and treat a wide range of illnesses. Pediatricians also work diligently to support families’ efforts to create a nurturing home environment that ultimately ensures children’s needs are being met.
To appropriately assess and diagnose young people, anyone pursuing a pediatrician career must be able to work effectively with children and their adult guardians. Managing the fear, vulnerability, and anxiety that parents feel when their children aren’t feeling well requires excellent communication and empathy.
Pediatricians can choose to work in primary care or focus on a specific subspecialty. Regardless of their specific focus, the AAP notes, pediatricians act as consultants and also collaborate with other physicians and health care providers.
7 Steps to Becoming a Pediatrician
Now that you have a clear idea of what the job entails, you’re probably eager to learn how to become a pediatrician. You might even wonder, “How long does it take to become a pediatrician?” As you’ll soon see, it can be anywhere between 7 and 15 years depending on where you are in your journey.
1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree
To apply to medical school, you must first complete your undergraduate studies. It’s worth noting that there is no “right” major. While most med school applicants have a degree in a science concentration, you can study any subject so long as you focus on getting good grades in prerequisite courses like physics, biology, and chemistry.
2. Take the MCAT
If your plan is to attend an MD program right after college, you’ll want to start preparing for medical school early by studying for and taking the Medical College Admission Test(MCAT) while completing your bachelor’s degree. The extensive exam is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and includes four sections. Expect to spend a fair amount of time studying, as the MCAT is an important factor in your application.
3. Apply to medical school
Most students complete the application process through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), Canada’s Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS), or specific school websites. They all have similar requirements. In addition to taking the MCAT, you’ll need to provide transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and more.
While good grades and a strong MCAT score are important, rest assured that there are many factors medical schools take into consideration. Your life experience and history of accomplishments as an employee, volunteer, and student may also carry a lot of weight. Medical schools look for certain core competencies that help demonstrate your preparedness for becoming a physician, including:
- Cultural competence
- Critical thinking
- Resilience and adaptability
- Scientific inquiry
- Human behavior
- Ethical responsibility to self and others
4. Graduate from medical school
Congratulations! Your hard work has earned you a spot in medical school, which will be an exciting new challenge. Most programs take four years to complete. During your first and second year, you will attend lectures and complete labs in a variety of subjects like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, and behavioral science.
In the final two years of medical school, you will get to work directly with patients during clinical rotations. These experiences allow you to gain exposure to an array of specialties like surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), psychiatry, family practice, and pediatrics.
5. Begin the licensure process
You must become licensed to legally practice medicine in the US. Students typically fulfill this requirement by taking the three-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) series. Plan to start studying for these tests early because you’ll want to take the USMLE Step 1 near the end of your second year. You’ll complete Step 2 during your fourth year then finish with Step 3 during residency.
6. Apply for and complete a residency in pediatrics
As medical school draws to a close, you’ll want to apply for a pediatric residency position. Residency typically lasts three years, but your training may take longer if you choose to further specialize in an area like pediatric cardiology or pediatric emergency medicine.
St. George’s University (SGU) graduate Dr. Karolina Petro is chief pediatric resident at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in New Jersey, and she outlines a typical day. According to Dr. Petro, it’s common to start around 5:30 in the morning, which usually entails receiving reports from the night team and going over specific cases. The rest of the day is spent making rounds, speaking with patients and families, performing procedures, attending lectures, and learning from senior doctors.
7. Become board certified
After completing a three-year residency program, pediatricians are eligible to pursue board certification. While this credential isn’t necessarily required, it demonstrates that a physician has gone above and beyond state licensing requirements. To achieve this designation, pediatricians must pass the rigorous exams administered by the American Board of Pediatrics. To remain certified, pediatricians must complete continuing education requirements throughout their careers.
Pursue a career in pediatrics
Now that you have a better understanding of how to become a pediatrician, you might feel eager to get started. But before you can pursue this specific field, you first need to get into medical school. Give yourself the best possible odds of receiving an acceptance letter by heeding the advice in our article “5 Ways to Strengthen Your Medical School Application.”