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How to Become a Pediatrician

March 2, 2014

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of children, or any patient under the age of 18. Working with young people can lead to an extremely rewarding career. However, as with any career in the medical profession, pediatrics also requires a great deal of emotional stamina. Becoming a pediatrician can take quite a toll on the mind and body. Rigorous medical training and long nights in lonely hospitals await you if you choose to follow this path.

However, the ultimate pay-off is well worth it to most who walk this road all the way to the end.

Start in High School

Most people don’t know what they want to be when they’re 18. Some don’t even know when they’re 40. However, if you want to be a doctor, you must begin your education with a high school diploma. It is an essential component to entering a four-year university, which is the next step to becoming a pediatrician.

Those who know they want to become doctors as early as high school wisely invest their time in studying biology, chemistry, and physics. They know that the classes they take at this point will become the building blocks of their future knowledge.

Completing a GED or other equivalent is an acceptable alternative to a high school diploma. Any degree that will grant access to a four-year university should do. There is, however, no substitute for studying the hard sciences.

Graduate from a Four-Year University

When choosing a four-year university for pediatric studies, you should consider these criteria.

  • Academic strength of the institution
  • Rigors of the pre-med program
  • On-campus resources, or off-campus access to resources
  • Volunteer opportunities available to students

Attending a university with a strong academic record will surround you with other sharp minds. Learning in an environment full of smart people challenges and hones your ability to think and adapt to intellectual problems.

how to become a pediatricianMore important than the people in your university is your university’s specialization. A university known for its scientific programs will benefit you more than a liberal arts college with only one chemistry professor to its name. A well-rounded pre-med program will know how to train its students to ace the MCAT and ascend to medical school.

Along with the existence of a pre-med program, your university must have access to useful academic resources. Find out the condition of the on-campus labs, and the content of the libraries. Know whether your university has an agreement with nearby medical facilities to allow its students early access and extra training.

Finally, a truly well-prepared campus will connect its students with volunteer opportunities that will boost their chances of getting into med school later on down the line.

Select Potential Medical Schools

You must choose your medical school with the same exacting interest you applied to choosing your undergraduate school. Thankfully, a well-equipped pre-med program will provide you with access to professors or counselors who can help you find schools that fit your strengths and interests.

You should consider the following when selecting which medical schools to apply to:

  • Departments and specialties
  • Medical facilities
  • Teaching methods
  • Location and cost

As with your undergraduate university, your medical school should have an excellent record of training in your field of interest, namely, pediatrics. Pediatrics is a common field, and so offered at the majority of medical schools, but some schools will have a better reputation for it than others. Learn more about the specialties of professors on the faculty. Working with someone whose research mirrors your interests not only ensures a high-caliber education for you, it makes you more appealing to the school.

Also research the school’s medical facilities, and its relationship with off-campus medical institutions. Having top-of-the-line facilities now is even more crucial than having good labs on your undergraduate campus. These facilities will prepare you for your residency, and your career. You need access to well-managed, well-supplied laboratories and hospitals.

Another thing to be aware of is that medical schools vary greatly in their curriculum design. Many employ weekly lectures alongside seminars and practicums. Others dispose of lectures almost entirely, and favor problem-based learning teams where students gather together to solve case files as a team. Other schools may offer a combination of the two. Consider your own learning style, and where you would best fit as a student.

You must also think about the school’s location, as well as its cost. Both of these will affect your daily life while you are in school. These days, many medical students graduate with an astounding amount of debt. Find out which schools offer scholarships that could apply to you, and which offer financial aid. Know the cost-of-living in the surrounding area.

Get into Medical School

Getting into medical school is no walk in the park. You have to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a brutal standardized test notorious for its difficulty. However, with a solid pre-med background from your university, you should be able to walk away from this test with a smile on your face.

The MCAT is a multiple choice test. It has three sections that cover physical sciences, biological sciences, and verbal reasoning. Preparation for this test should begin months in advance of your actual test date. Methods of preparation include buying a test preparation book, hiring a tutor, taking practice exams, and attending MCAT prep courses. At this point, avoid thinking of your fellow pre-med students as competitors. Embrace them as comrades and helpful learning tools. Study with each other to improve your scores.

Keep in mind that the MCAT isn’t the only measure of your worth, as far as med schools are concerned. Your application will also include letters of reference from your professors and other professionals, as well as personal essays in answer to questions that depend on the institution. Finally, you will also have to attend interviews at interested institutions. Dress smart, prepare yourself, and do your research on each school’s expectations.

Beat the Rigors of Medical School

Once you’ve been accepted into various medical schools and chosen the one that fits you best, you can shift gears. Instead of thinking about how to best present yourself to gain acceptance, you can turn your attentions to what truly matters, i.e. becoming a better doctor.

In medical school, you will be responsible for acquiring an enormous volume of medical knowledge. You will be tested frequently with exams the likes of which you’ve never before encountered. Some of these tests will occur in your school, while some of them are standardized national exams. The constant testing breeds a competitive atmosphere, which many students find overwhelming and stressful.

However, if you’ve been accepted into a school, the school expects that you will be able to succeed in its curriculum. Be prepared for a tough education, but remind yourself that you’ll live through it.

Focus on Your Concentrations

All medical students are required to undergo the same basic training. No matter what your later specialty will be, you are expected to master the same general material. The general nature of this material does not make it easy to acquire, nor does it mean it’s useless. Far from it. As a pediatrician, you will deal with a wide range of symptoms and afflictions. As such, your knowledge-base must cover all the relevant topics.

Of course, you should also begin to focus on your concentration now. While you will not be expected to select your specialization at the beginning of your medical school career, making that selection early on enables you to take advantage of more specific opportunities.

Seek Research and Internship Opportunities

The number one way to advance your personal knowledge of the field is to seek out research and internship opportunities. These jobs–and they are jobs–will give you tremendous insight into dimensions of pediatrics that you would not otherwise be able to grasp.

A research opportunity will allow you to study a specific question in-depth. It may even give you the chance to contribute meaningful knowledge to your field. While as a pediatrician you may be more interested in treatment than in research, spending time in a laboratory may give you a different perspective. Specializing in pediatric research is a valuable and worthwhile career. Even if you leave with no interest in further research, the expertise you garner from the experience will prove invaluable later in life.

An internship has more obvious and palpable returns. Internships teach you the ins and outs of particular jobs, showing you all the rigors of daily life as a pediatrician in the specific conditions for which you intern. Being able to see and interact with patients will provide the stepping stones to the development of your bedside manner, an especially important trait for pediatricians.

Both research and internships are also excellent networking and mentor-ship opportunities. Building relationships with already established doctors will help you find a job after you graduate, as will developing a close student-teacher relationship with particular doctors.

Complete Your Residency

After the fourth year of medical school, you must apply to a residency. Residencies are widely considered the most challenging step on the path to becoming a doctor. Between long hours, little sleep, and learning the ropes, you may find yourself tipping toward crawling into a medical closet and hoping no one comes to find you. But you’ve come this far. The end is just around the corner.

Pediatrics residencies are three years long. Your residency must be certified by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Examination (ACGME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). As this is your final, greatest step in becoming a pediatrician, you will finally learn every aspect of hands-on pediatric treatment. Over the three years of your residency, you will gain competency and earn more and more responsibilities.

Become Board Certified

Once you have completed your residency, you must become a board-certified pediatrician in order to practice, whether you intend to work at a hospital or open your own practice. You may become certified with either the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) or the American Osteopathic Board of Pediatrics (ABOP). You must acquire this certification within seven years of completing your pediatrics residency. It must also be maintained and renewed – the studying doesn’t stop once you become a doctor!

Choose Your Path, Round 2

On your way to becoming a fully certified pediatrician you will have been exposed to a number of different careers within the field. You will have met researchers, pediatric oncologists, pediatric cardiologists, pediatric surgeons, and general practitioner pediatricians employed both privately and in hospitals. By this time, you will have acquired your practical specialties, so your choice is a matter of where rather than what to practice.

Many pediatricians desire their own private practice. They find the thought of independent employment appealing, knowing they will set their own hours and acquire an intimate relationship with their client base. However, the cost of starting such a business is high, so many pediatricians end up remaining with their hospitals even after their residencies.

Staying with a hospital also guarantees a steady flow of patients who require your specific skill set. This stands especially true for pediatricians who have specialized in fields of oncology or cardiology, as the equipment for diagnosis and treatment may be prohibitively expensive to acquire for an independent doctor.

Regardless of where a pediatrician chooses to set up their practice, they are guaranteed to be able to provide service. Unlike other fields, health care remains recession proof. Everyone requires medical attention, and there will always be children.

Prepare yourself for this exhausting but rewarding career by starting early in your studies, mentally preparing yourself for the rigors of your work, and looking forward to the day you become a licensed pediatrician. And in the meantime, enjoy this awesome video of a day in the life of the average pediatrician!