If you decide that you want to have a career in medicine and ultimately become a doctor, then there are, of course, many different specialties you can choose from. While some doctors may decide to go into internal medicine, radiology or dermatology, others may know from the very beginning that they want to work with children and therefore, work hard to become a pediatrician. If you want to work as a pediatrician, you'll have to go through years of schooling first, but also get matched with a pediatrics residency program that will prepare you for practicing as a pediatrician.

Why Consider Pediatrics

Working with children is usually very rewarding in many different ways. Of course, being a doctor and having the opportunity to help patients and save lives is always a meaningful venture. But there's something about helping kids who still have their whole lives ahead of them, that really strikes a chord.

As a pediatrician, you have the unique ability to potentially change a child's life forever, as well as the lives of their families. Pediatricians can give hope to parents who have a child that's struggling with some kind of birth defect, condition, injury, disease or illness, whether that begins at birth, in the early years of the child's life or in adolescence.

What Does a Pediatrician Do?

A pediatrician has many different responsibilities, as do most doctors. First and foremost, it's important to understand that one of the things that makes a pediatrician unique is that they will work with all children under the age of 21. In fact, many young people will happily choose to stay with their pediatricians until they reach this age because really, there's nobody that knows you better than your pediatrician. A pediatrician is the only doctor that has the special opportunity to watch their patients grow from infancy into adulthood.

Futhermore, pediatricians are trained to diagnose and treat common and uncommon diseases and conditions that are found in younger patients. They work with infants, toddlers, children, adolescents and young adults, addressing the different issues that can come at these various and complex stages in a person's life. In addition to making sure a sick child can be healed, a pediatrician's job entails many other duties as well:

  • Diagnosing and treating genetic defects
  • Administering immunizations
  • Evaluating whether or not babies are reaching their milestones
  • Performing regular check-ups and physicals
  • Determining whether or not a child is physically growing at a normal rate
  • Understanding symptoms and seeing if a child needs to be referred to a specialist
  • Providing care for children who are chronically ill
  • Educating new parents about caring for their child to reduce child mortality rates

Besides all of their medical expertise, pediatricians also tend to have the best bedside manners out of any other doctor. This is because pediatricians essentially need to be patient and caring as part of their job description They need to make sure that their patients and the parents of their patients feel comfortable and associate "going to the doctor" with good feelings and trust.

How Many Years of School do Pediatricians Need?

Students will need to go through many years of schooling in order to become a pediatrician. You may be wondering how many years of school do pediatricians need? Sometimes, it's not always guaranteed what kind of doctor a person will become. To begin your journey as a pediatrician, you must first go to a four-year college and earn your bachelor's degree. It doesn't necessarily matter what field you get your bachelor's degree in if you're perhaps interested in declaring a major like English or history.

That being said, most students who are fairly certain that they want to become a doctor may seriously consider applying to a pre-med program for their undergraduate degree, in order to have their coursework closely aligned to what medical schools will be looking for in their applicants.

If there is no pre-med program available at the school, then students may choose to follow a path that's as close to pre-med as possible. As long as you take all the credits required by medical schools, like chemistry, biology and other types of science and math classes, you should have no problem obtaining the credits that admissions counselors look at as prerequisites for med school. Just to be sure, always consult with an academic advisor regarding the best course of action.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree, a student who wants to become a pediatrician will need to apply to medical school. Medical school is another four years, and during that time, students will get to choose which specialty program they want to go into, or rather, what kind of doctor they want to be. Here, is where you decide if you want to go into pediatrics, and hopefully, you'll get matched with a pediatrics residency.

In your pediatrics residency, you'll be trained by experienced doctors in the field. While you're in your residence or at some time before you start working as an official pediatrician, you'll need to take all your licensing exams so that you're permitted to practice in the state you hope to work in. Only then, can you begin working as a pediatrician.

The Desired Skills and Characteristics of a Pediatrician

Being a pediatrician isn't just about implementing your medical training. While the skills you learn in school, training and residency are definitely necessary in your role as a pediatrician, there are other skills and characteristics that hiring managers look for when hiring new doctors. Additionally, there are skills that parents look for when seeking out a pediatrician for their child:

  • A good listener
  • Patient
  • Observant
  • Communicative
  • Honest
  • Compassionate
  • Empathetic
  • Reliable

Do Colleges Offer Degrees in Pediatrics?

If you're dead set on becoming a pediatrician, you might be wondering which college you should apply to in order to have the best chance of becoming a pediatrician. The thing is that colleges and medical schools don't offer a specific program based on the type of doctor you want to be. Although there are residency programs that are known for being the top in pediatrics, there's no such thing as a "degree in pediatrics." Therefore, if you want to become a pediatrician, you'll need to get into medical school first.

The Best College for Pediatricians

Because there's no such thing as a "degree in pediatrics" a person can instead try their best to get into one of the top medical schools in the country. If you get into one of the best medical schools, then you can hope to gain the training and skills necessary to land yourself in a pediatrics residency thereafter.

While there are no best colleges in terms of specialties, according to U.S. News, there are medical schools that are ranked higher than others and may, in some way, be geared toward preparing those specifically interested in pursuing pediatrics:

  • Harvard University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Colorado
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of California-San Francisco
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Washington 
  • Stanford University
  • Baylor College of Medicine

The Top Pediatric Residency Programs

Though medical schools themselves don't necessarily focus on a specific branch, residency programs do. Therefore, if you're interested in becoming a pediatrician, then you should try your best throughout medical school to earn the highest grades possible, so that you can increase your chances of getting matched at one of the top pediatric residency programs or fellowship programs in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report:

  • Stanford Medicine's Department of Pediatrics
  • University of Washington's Fellowship Program
  • University of North Carolina's Pediatrics Department
  • Baylor College of Medicine's General Pediatrics and Specialized Residency and Fellowship programs

Of course, there are plenty of other hospitals that are known for offering great residency programs in pediatrics, though, there's always a chance that you could get placed in a residency program at a hospital that's recognized for something other than pediatrics. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you're on the right path to accomplishing your goal of becoming a pediatrician.

Do You Get Paid for Your Residency?

After accumulating some debt from four years in undergraduate school and four years of medical school, students often wonder do you get paid for your residency? They need to be able to make a living and start paying off some of that debt. This is why students will get paid for the three years they're in their residency program. Residents usually get paid between $40,000 and $50,000 a year and that amount will vary depending on the state and the hospital.

What is the Average Salary for a Pediatrician?

While the salary during residency certainly isn't anything to celebrate, once a resident completes their residency program and passes all the licensing exams required, they can start practicing as a pediatrician. Do you want to know what is the average salary for a pediatrician? According to U.S. News, as of 2016, the median salary for a pediatrician was $168,990. But depending on the city and the hospital you start your first job at, pediatricians can make close to an average of $300,000 for their annual salary.

Different Subspecialties of Pediatrics

Pediatricians can begin working right after finishing their residency, or they can continue their education to receive training in a subspecialty of pediatrics. To do this, the pediatrician will need to go through a subspecialty fellowship training program, which can take up to another three years. There are many subspecialties to choose from:

  • Neonatology
  • Critical care
  • Genetics
  • Pediatric hematology/oncology
  • Critical care

The Pros and Cons of Being a Pediatrician

There are many pros and cons to being a pediatrician. A pediatrician gets to work with children and get paid well for it, too. They may play a role in saving the life of a premature baby, or finding a diagnosis and administering treatment to a patient who is having life-altering symptoms. As a pediatrician, you're the person that can help a child fight off a disease or heal from a painful injury. There's no better feeling than knowing that you're the person that the patient relies on when things take a negative turn.

But there are also some downsides to being a pediatrician. Unfortunately, not all children can be cured of their ailments, and not all children survive. You may have to be the person that tells the parents that their child has leukemia, or that their child has suffered from a diagnosis or injury that isn't treatable. You may even be the one that needs to tell parents that their child won't make it, even after doing everything in your power to save the child.

This can be extremely hard for any doctor to do, but there's something truly heartbreaking about sharing this news when it's a child. Hopefully, though, when all is said and done, a pediatrician will experience more fulfilling and happy moments than heartwrenching moments throughout his or her career.

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