Becoming a neonatologist – a doctor who specializes in taking care of newborn babies, premature babies and sick babies – requires many years of study. After graduating from high school, neonatologist education and training requirements start with college, followed by medical school. You must then complete a pediatric internship and residency and then a neonatology fellowship.
While there are no required majors to become a pediatrician, and most schools don’t have a dedicated pre-med major, you should focus on biological and physical sciences.
Required College Courses
According to the American Medical Association, prospective doctors typically major in a science field, most commonly biology, chemistry and physics. However, medical schools accept applicants with other undergraduate degrees as long as they complete specific prerequisite coursework.
Johns Hopkins University recommends that pre-med students take two courses in general (inorganic) chemistry, two course in organic chemistry, two courses in biology, one course in biochemistry, two courses in mathematics, one course in statistics, two courses in general physics, two courses that emphasize English and/or writing-intensive coursework and two courses that emphasize social and behavioral science principles.
It’s impossible to meet every requirement of every medical school in the United States, but this is a useful starting point.
Choosing a Pre-Med School
It's important that your college offers guidance to pre-med students via specialized resources, support and opportunities to boost your med school application. Some schools, such as Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania, have a pre-med advising program track to help students prepare for and apply to medical school.
Some schools disclose what percentage of their pre-med students end up going to medical school, which can help you make your decision. For example, Harvard University, which was the top-ranked medical school in the U.S. for research in 2018, claims that its pre-med applicants with a 3.5 GPA or higher had a 93 percent acceptance rate to med schools in 2012.
Medical schools look for various things from applicants, including clinical experience, diverse interests, research and independent investigation skills, a passion for medicine and strong letters of recommendation. They also review your cumulative GPA, BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics and math) GPA and Medical College Admission Test score. They also look for trends in academic performance and evidence of a challenging course load.
Becoming a Neonatologist
You have to train in general pediatrics before you can become a neonatologist. After graduating from medical school, you complete a three-year residency (training program) in various clinical settings, such as wards in children's hospitals and emergency departments. As well as caring for patients and attending to pediatric emergencies, you attend daily lectures and teaching conferences.
When your pediatric training is complete, you must take a neonatology fellowship, which involves a further three years of training. Typically, this training is split between research related to newborn care and looking after sick infants in a neonatal intensive care unit under supervision.
To become certified as a neonatologist, you must pass several medical board examinations: national medical examinations during medical school and the first year of your pediatric residency, pediatric board examinations the year after you complete your pediatric residency and a final set of exams after you complete your neonatology fellowship. When you pass these exams, you are certified as a subspecialist in neonatal-perinatal medicine.
Best Neonatologist Colleges
As there's no official list of the best places to go for neonatologist schooling, a good source is the U.S. News & World Report rankings for the best pediatric programs. In 2018, Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania were ranked joint No. 1 for pediatrics programs, followed by University of Cincinnati at No. 3.
- American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children: What is a Neonatologist?
- Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons: Fundamentals
- Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy: Molecular Biology
- Council of Pediatric Subspecialties: Pediatric Neonatology
- Johns Hopkins University: Advising Guides
- The Harvard Crimson: Making the Cut: The Real Pre-med Requirements
- Johns Hopkins University: Pre-Med and Pre-Health Planning at Johns Hopkins University
Claire Gillespie has been writing and editing for 18 years. She has written about high school and higher education for private clients and various websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.