A pediatrician is a physician trained to address the health and medical needs of patients under the age of 21, and is responsible for so much more than just handing out lollipops to uneasy toddlers and answering the frantic, middle-of-the-night phone calls about a feverish child. Equipped with the knowledge and skill to diagnose, treat and prevent the common (and not-so-common) diseases and conditions that affect younger patients, a pediatrician goes through an average of 13 years of training and education to become a health care provider of kids.
What is a Pediatrician?
A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to younger patients (from birth until they reach adulthood), which can be all the way until their 21st birthday, but at the very least, up to their late teens. It is the duty of a pediatrician to not only diagnose and treat the ailments that generally affect infants, babies, children, adolescents and young adults, but to also assist their young patients in maintaining good health.
Pediatricians are primarily trained to:
While physical well-being plays a significant part in the role of a pediatrician, some of the preventive health maintenance and counseling they provide children may include issues related to diet, exercise, and hygiene. A pediatrician is also involved with the early detection and management of other issues that can affect the growth, development and safety of a child, such as behavioral difficulties, social stresses, developmental disorders, difficulties with basic functions, as well as anxiety disorders and depression.
In a nutshell, pediatrics is a specialty of medicine that is chiefly concerned with the physical, emotional and social health of children. There are also many sub-specialties that a pediatrician may pursue to provide care to patients with more specific issues.
For example, pediatric allergists treat and oversee the care of children with immune system issues, asthma, and experiencing allergic reactions to food, medicine, and their environment.
Other examples include:
A doctorate degree is the entry-level educational requirement for pediatricians.
Step by Step Educational Path of a Pediatrician
1. Earn a bachelor's degree. The minimum requirement to gain acceptance into medical school is at least three years of study at a college or university. However, most medical students earn an undergraduate or advanced degree by the time they apply to a medical school. While some students enter a pre-med program to become a pediatrician, others satisfy prerequisites by taking math and science courses, such as physics, biology, and chemistry (inorganic and organic). Students who have a clear goal to become a pediatrician upon starting undergraduate school may choose to major in child psychology or another discipline closely associated with pediatrics.
2. Apply to medical school. Earning a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) degree is a requirement to become a pediatrician. When applying to a medical school, an applicant is generally asked to send MCAT scores along with their application. The Medical College Admissions Test is a standardized examination that measures an individual's knowledge and understanding of the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences. A student generally takes the exam during his or her third year of undergraduate studies.
3. Complete a medical school program. Medical school generally takes four years to complete. Coursework during the first two years of medical school include training related to anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics. The remaining two years of training are spent learning how to care for patients within a medical setting (such as a hospital or clinic), which takes place under the supervision of experienced physicians. During this time, students are exposed to multiple specialties, including internal medicine, family practice, cardiology, gynecology, psychiatry, and surgery.
4. Complete a residency in pediatrics. Upon completion of medical school, a graduate is a doctor, but they are not fully trained just yet. The next step is to complete a three-year residency in an approved program to further learn about treating children, which takes place under the supervision of experienced pediatricians.
5. Pursue a fellowship in a specialty (optional). A physician who wishes to specialize in a sub-field of pediatrics (such as critical care, neonatology, or medical genetics) will pursue a fellowship program. Depending on the sub-specialty, training lasts two to three years.
6. Obtain a license. All physicians in the United States must obtain a license in order to practice in the state of their choice. Licensure requirements vary on a state-to-state basis, but all include taking and passing a two-part examination.
7. Get board certified (optional). Pediatricians can also become certified by passing another exam. Becoming board-certified in a sub-specialty means fulfilling a separate certification process associated with that specific area of pediatrics.
Doctors trained to specifically care for and treat children, as well as possess a deep understanding about the health of a child, are hired to work in a wide range of facilities, institutions, environments, and industries that include health care facilities, community health centers, schools, medical groups, HMOs, public clinics, and of course, hospitals. Pediatricians also join single- and multi-specialty private practice groups.
In the hospital setting, pediatricians often possess a supervisory role. Oftentimes, they admit young patients to the hospital and become responsible for ordering the proper tests and medications. They also decide which procedures or treatments are necessary, and consult with hospital staff to ensure the health and recovery of a patient.
Pediatricians who specialize in neonatology are also hired by hospitals to treat premature infants and sick newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Pediatricians working in hospitals can also become medical directors, or head the pediatric ward at a large hospital.
Children's hospitals are constantly on the lookout for qualified, well-trained pediatricians with additional training in a sub-specialty, as seen in the pediatric hematologists/oncologists who are hired to diagnose and treat infants and children with blood disorders and cancerous tumors.
Academic circles hire pediatricians to teach at medical school programs, as well as conduct research through colleges, universities, pharmaceutical companies, and other industries.
Employers hiring pediatricians typically seek the following qualities in a job candidate:
While fulfilling all of the educational and training requirements is the most important part of getting hired as a pediatrician, job candidates can increase their chances of impressing an employer with some of the following suggestions:
According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report (2014), those who work in pediatrics earned an average salary of $181,000 in 2013, which is the third-lowest earning specialty amongst all other types of physicians. On the positive side, pediatricians interviewed by Medscape reported an increase of 4.9% in earnings over last year's report.
The median yearly salary earned by pediatricians also varies according to a few factors, such as years of experience, geography, and their place (or method) of employment. For example, pediatricians residing in the South Central and Southeast regions earned the most in 2013 – between $186,000 and $199,000. Those who earned salaries on the lower end lived in the Northeast and Northwest, and took home an average income of $175,000.
A pediatrician's place of employment also plays a part in how much money they make in a year. Those who work in office-based group practices earned the highest salaries with yearly incomes between $190,000 and $193,000 for multispecialty and single-specialty practices, respectively.
Additional work environments and average yearly salary figures for pediatricians to note:
"The income of a physician, and that of a pediatrician in particular, is not all the "glory" it used to be, but pediatricians have every reason to be financially successful in their careers," says Steven J. Halm, DO, FAAP, FACP, in an overview of a pediatrician's lifestyle on his website, YourPediatrician.com, Inc. "As a pediatrician, in particular, you need to be accepting that you will make less money than physicians in most other specialty areas."
Employment prospects for pediatricians are excellent with a great deal of opportunities for physicians to advance, specialize, and /or branch off within the field. For example, some pediatricians move into management and administration positions, as well as become medical directors at hospitals.
The demand for pediatricians will continue to increase with plenty of options to serve rural and under-served communities across the United States. Larger cities, such as New York City; San Antonio, Texas; Greensboro, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Los Angeles, California, are all cited as experiencing a shortage in primary care doctors, which includes pediatricians.
Starting a Private Practice…
A pediatrician with an interest in starting a private practice may focus on delivering general care to patients, or concentrate on providing services related to a sub-specialty, such as pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric orthopedics, or pediatric pulmonology.
From having greater freedom to make patient care decisions to increased management responsibilities, pediatricians juggle a variety of pros and cons when running their own practices.
In addition to having more control over treating patients, pediatricians also enjoy a more flexible work schedule. Those in private practice can choose to see patients only on certain days of the week, within a certain time frame, or on a part-time basis if they choose to split their time elsewhere. Additionally, self-employed pediatricians typically earn a higher average income over those who are employed in a salaried position; Medscape places the difference at $203,000 versus $172,000 in 2013.
However, a pediatrician must exercise a great deal of orderliness, efficiency, organizational skills, and pay attention to detail when balancing the responsibilities related to caring for patients and addressing the demands of running a medical business.
Self-employed pediatricians should expect to:
There will always be a great demand for pediatricians, as the Baby Center states just over 4 million babies are born in the United States each year. Physicians specializing in the care of infants, adolescents and young adults will find plenty of opportunities to work and expand their interests. Although the educational road towards learning how to become a pediatrician is lengthy and costly, the benefits and rewards that await a new physician are well worth the journey.