The road to become a pediatrician is long but rewarding. Students must complete two degrees, a multi-year training program and pass a series of rigorous tests. At the end, though, most pediatricians wouldn’t trade their career for anything. The satisfaction of reassuring a worried parent or watching a child overcome a difficult illness overcomes any frustrations along the way. Here’s how prospective pediatricians can go from the first day of school to seeing their first patient in the office.
Medical schools do not accept applicants without bachelor’s degrees. Most medical students have a Bachelor of Science in Biology or Chemistry, although any degree is acceptable. Students must complete classes in biology, statistics, chemistry, sociology, organic chemistry and calculus. Before acceptance to medical school, applicants must demonstrate their mastery of undergraduate science through the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Many students also work part-time in a health-related field. Universities may offer college credit for Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes. This work lets students interact with patients and commit themselves to a career helping others.
Pediatricians must earn a four-year medical degree. Both allopathic degrees (M.D.) and osteopathic medical degrees (D.O.) are good preparation for a career specializing in pediatrics. Because osteopathic schools take a more holistic approach to student admission, second-career students or those with big hearts and low GPAs often prefer the D.O. path. There are no specialties in medical school, so future pediatricians will take classes on the anatomy, pharmacology, psychiatry and biochemistry of adults and children. Clinical rotations will cover obstetrics, surgery, oncology and other specialties. Students must also pass the first two sections of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), which covers adult and children’s medicine. The exam is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners. In the last year of medical school, students apply to residency programs for the next stage of training to become a pediatrician.
Specialization begins in residency. Pediatricians complete a three-year program to learn more about treating children. Residencies involve long hours as junior doctors learn everything there is to know about the diagnosis and treatment of children’s illnesses. Most pediatric residencies take place at children’s hospitals. Residents rotate between every section of the hospital while senior physicians, called attendings, provide hands-on education. It’s common for pediatric residents to complete 24- or 36-hour shifts or work 100-hour weeks. This may be the hardest stage of becoming a pediatrician.
Fellowships and Board Certification
After completing residency and passing the third and final step of the USMLE, pediatricians are ready to start seeing patients. Some choose to continue their education before opening a practice. Fellowships are a way to further specialize; for example, doctors can complete a two-year training in pediatric oncology or a one-year fellowship in pediatric psychiatry. Other specialties include pediatric surgery, dermatology and cardiology. Pediatricians can take an additional examination to become board certified.
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It takes many hands to keep children healthy. Registered nurses, psychologists and nurse practitioners also care for children. If the journey to become a pediatrician is too daunting, any of these medical careers with children is a worthy alternative.
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