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How to Become a Pediatrician

  • by Lauren Claus
  • Feb 04, 2022

If you’re hoping to become a pediatrician, congratulations on choosing a rewarding profession with a great deal of variety! As a pediatrician, you’ll provide medical care for infants, children, and adolescents in a range of clinical settings, including inpatient units and outpatient clinics.

You can either choose to work as a generalist and provide comprehensive care, or specialize in a particular clinical field (such as cardiology, gastroenterology, or neonatology) or type of practice (such as emergency medicine or hospitalist medicine). Regardless of your area of expertise, all pediatricians communicate with families as well as patients. The wonderful variety of conversations and connections I’ve made is one of my favorite parts of becoming a pediatrician!

The Pathway to Pediatrics

Premedical Experiences

The path to pediatrics begins with the decision to apply to medical school. In order to be admitted to an allopathic or osteopathic medical school (as part of a MD or DO program), most students will take college courses in a range of subjects, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. During this time, you might take the MCAT and pursue work, volunteer, or research experiences that allow you to serve pediatric patients and families in their local community.

These experiences prepare you to build strong relationships with families, provide effective medical care that addresses social determinants of health, and advocate for their patients’ needs as a pediatrician. For nontraditional students shifting from another career to pediatrics, this path will look a bit different for you, however you will still need to fulfill prospective programs’ admissions criteria which typically involves undergraduate sciences and an MCAT score. 

Exams

MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which includes biology, biochemistry, psychology, sociology, organic and general chemistry, physics, and reading comprehension questions, is a requirement for most medical schools.

Medical Boards

In order to gain a medical license, you must take two multiple-choice exams as a medical student (Step 1 and Step 2) and a third exam as a resident physician (Step 3). Although pediatrics residencies may consider board scores when considering applicants, there is no specific minimum cut-off score for applying to pediatrics residency programs.

Shelf Exams

Most medical schools require you to take a shelf exam during each core clerkship. The pediatrics shelf exam focuses on pediatric medicine and may contribute to your grade for the pediatrics clerkship.

Medical School

During the first year or two of medical school, you should dedicate yourself equally to all aspects of your pre-clinical coursework in anatomy and physiology. Once you start your clinical rotations in various fields, such as internal medicine, surgery, and neurology, you’ll benefit from staying open to all learning opportunities. Many medical conditions you’ll see in adult patients can also occur in adolescent patients or inform you about related conditions that commonly affect children. During electives, you can adopt a narrower focus and concentrate on pediatric medicine specifically.

Pediatrics Residency

During the last year of medical school, you’ll apply to three-year residencies in pediatrics. Overall, pediatrics is less competitive than many other specialties; according to the National Resident Matching Program’s 2020 report “Charting Outcomes in the Match,” medical students in M.D. programs have an approximately 100% chance of matching into a residency program if they include at least 12 programs on their rank list for the annual residency match. The average Step 1 score of matched pediatrics applicants from M.D. programs is 228 out of 300. 

Because resident physicians are trainees, you will be supervised by more experienced attending physicians as you rotate through different clinical settings, including intensive care units, outpatient clinics, emergency departments, and inpatient hospital wards. You will work alongside health care teams and collaborate with other professionals, such as nurses and social workers. While pediatrics physicians spend much of their time diagnosing medical conditions and creating management plans, as a pediatrics resident, you must also gain experience with certain procedures, such as venipunctures, simple laceration repairs, and lumbar punctures.

Tips for Your Path To Being A Pediatrician

Focus in Studying

Although a one-month-old infant and a seventeen-year-old teenager are both pediatric patients, they have very different anatomy and physiology! When studying pediatrics topics, it’s helpful to group medical conditions by age range. It’s also important to differentiate between congenital conditions (that are present at birth) and acquired conditions (that present after birth) when learning about new medical topics.

Because pediatricians must educate children as well as parents about medical situations, it’s essential to learn simpler ways to describe complex medical issues. For instance, when you learn specific details about the complicated cardiac pathophysiology associated with the Tetralogy of Fallot, you must also consider ways to explain this condition to the five-year-old patient who is presenting to the clinic that day.

Pediatricians must educate children as well as parents about medical situations. Learn simpler ways to describe complex medical issues.

Time Management

Task prioritization and time management are crucial skills for aspiring and practicing pediatricians alike. During college and medical school, you’ll balance a number of responsibilities, including volunteer positions, jobs, academic classes, and standardized tests. These time management skills will also prepare you to become a practicing pediatrician when you must care for multiple patients with multiple medical conditions at once.

Deferral

The road to pediatrics is long: college, medical school, and pediatrics residency combined take at least a decade or longer to complete. You must stay motivated as you pursue your goals. In addition to envisioning life as a pediatrician, you can also maintain your enthusiasm through hands-on volunteer experiences in clinical settings or involvement in projects or initiatives that seek to improve children’s health.

Do’s and Don’ts

DO:  Explore all pediatric subspecialties. Although you might have been exposed to general pediatrics when you received immunizations or had well-visits during your own childhood, you may not ever see or learn about some pediatrics settings (such as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) until you seek out relevant experiences.

DO: Develop excellent teaching and communication skills. Because children may be unable to take care of themselves, you must effectively partner with parents and guardians to teach how to take care of a child’s medical needs. Through tutoring, teaching, or many other experiences, you can begin working on these skills before or during medical school.

DON’T:  Let a setback decrease your motivation. Whether it’s an organic chemistry test that went poorly or a fruitless job interview, most aspiring pediatricians have a disappointment or two along the way! Setbacks are also learning opportunities that reveal your true affinities and passions in your field.

DON’T: Isolate yourself during the process. It truly takes a community to create a pediatrician, from study partners to family members or friends! Remember to ask for support when you need it, and always thank those who helped you along the way.

Conclusion

Being a pediatrician is an immensely rewarding job, with a great deal of variety that will keep you engaged in your work and constantly growing and evolving as a physician. The key to success on your journey is to have a good plan, so you can reduce the stress of your med school and certification exams and stay focused on what’s important: building your medical knowledge.

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