People who like kids are often told they’d be perfectly suited for teaching or social work. While these occupations are good options for some, you feel as though they’re somewhat lacking. You’ve always been drawn toward medicine as well. You don’t want to sacrifice either interest.
Luckily, it’s completely possible to pursue both your passions. Many physicians have found satisfying careers that combine practicing medicine and working with children—they’re pediatricians.
While becoming a pediatrician sounds enticing, you might be wondering whether you’re really a good fit for the role. Not everyone is meant to pursue pediatrics. But if you have the right qualities, a pediatrician career could be in your future.
You might be a destined for a career in pediatrics if . . .
1. You’re patient
Working with children isn’t always easy. Young patients might not pay attention, and they can certainly squirm if any vaccinations are necessary. Dr. Amy Shriver, Pediatrician at Blank Children’s Hospital and Medical Director for Reach Out & Read Iowa, says that pediatricians need to be understanding when working with kids and parents.
"We should work constantly and vigilantly on being nonjudgmental and patient with children and families."
“We should work constantly and vigilantly on being nonjudgmental and patient with children and families,” she advises.
2. You’re a natural communicator
Keeping little ones healthy is really a team effort. Pediatricians need to work effectively with children, of course, but they also need to communicate with parents. They often need to verbally convey a lot of information to the adults in the room.
“I find that more than 50 percent of my job is providing guidance and advice for parents,” Dr. Shriver explains.
Communication is about more than just hitting your talking points, though. What you see and hear are just as important.
"I’d say that your listening and observation skills are key."
3. You consider yourself a lifelong learner
When doctors finish medical school and training, they can’t just operate on cruise control. Being a physician requires a commitment to continually educating yourself. Medicine is constantly evolving, thanks to new research and health care technology. States also have strict requirements for continuing medical education.
Pediatricians are tasked with staying up to date on anything relevant to children’s health. This can include child development and mental health issues. Pediatricians also need to understand how health concerns differ among age groups.
4. You’re a child wellness advocate
Kids don’t always have the tools to speak up when their needs aren’t being met. They rely on adults to advocate for them. Pediatricians have the ability to make a huge difference in their patients’ lives by getting involved in outreach initiatives and helping to shape public policy.
“Pediatricians should know that they can provide improved services for children and families by connecting with organizations within their communities,” Dr. Shriver says.
5. You find it easy to empathize with others
Empathy is a critical competency for any physician. But it’s especially important for those caring for the littlest patients. One 2018 study found families were more likely to share valuable concerns and information when pediatricians were able to empathize with them and avoid filling silences with additional medical-speak. You need to meet families where they are.
“Emotional responsiveness is key,” Dr. Hill says. “If you feel like you don’t reliably read people well, this career may not best utilize your skill set.”
6. You have perspective
While some pediatrician careers have a specialized focus, general pediatricians work to help keep all kids healthy. To do that, they need a healthy dose of perspective. Dr. Shriver says general pediatricians need to be well aware of all the factors that can affect a child’s growth, development, and general well-being. That includes socioeconomic, educational, cultural, and racial considerations.
Dr. Hill agrees. He also points out that pediatricians who are parents need to understand their own family may be very different from the ones they encounter on the job.
“You must remember that other families face diverse challenges.”
“It’s easy to overemphasize your own experience and forget that other children can be very different from your own,” he says. “You must remember that other families face diverse challenges.”
7. You’re an excellent multitasker
Pediatricians need to wear a lot of hats. They must provide a welcoming and friendly presence for children, perform examinations and procedures, and communicate important information with parents. Often, they need to complete all these tasks simultaneously.
8. You tend to pick up on details
Children, especially those who are very young, often have difficulty expressing their emotions. Sometimes this is because they’re frustrated or upset, but it could also be because they simply lack the appropriate vocabulary. Being able to notice nonverbal cues is essential in such instances.
Pediatricians also need to be able to identify when they’re seeing something outside of the norm. Not every patient presents with something routine.
“If pediatrics were really just ear infections and colds all day, it would be easy,” Dr. Hill explains. “But the hard part is sorting out the serious pathology from the quotidian and not missing the rare stuff.”
9. You’re young at heart
A playful attitude and pediatrics go hand in hand. That’s partly why Dr. Hill chose the field. He didn’t initially intend to become a pediatrician, but he found it brought him the most joy.
"I’m getting paid to do something that is inherently, intensely fun."
“I’m getting paid to do something that is inherently, intensely fun,” Dr. Hill says. “If you feel that way about the best parts of the job, then you can cope with the less enjoyable aspects.”
Be an MD with impact
Being a pediatrician requires a unique combination of skills that only certain individuals possess. You need to be empathetic, perceptive, and endlessly patient. If you think you fit the bill, a pediatrician career could be an ideal choice.
Before you can pursue any specialty, though, you first need to attend medical school. Perhaps you’ve already started looking into your options and are feeling a little overwhelmed. There are a lot of schools, so homing in on a shortened list can be intimidating.
But it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. Learn more about how you can select an institution that meets your needs by checking out our article, “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
Have dreams of becoming a doctor?Learn More