The Journey to Become a Pediatrician

I am doing a report on pediatricians for school, and I was just wondering if you could send me information on what sorts of requirements are needed, salaries, and other information like that. Thanks a lot!
Evan Freese – Triadelphia, West Virginia

The Journey to Become a Pediatrician

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

It’s back to school time and questions have come pouring in from students around the world about what is required to become a pediatrician. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t know all that was involved when I embarked on this course. If I had seen beforehand how much work was involved, I might have been overwhelmed and would have missed out on a life’s work that is truly thrilling, rewarding, and worth every sleepless night.

Although the preparation for becoming a physician doesn’t officially begin until college, it unofficially begins much earlier. Every decision for excellence, from high school onwards, impacts your chances of getting into medical school. The college or university you attend will be considered when applying for medical school — the more prestigious the school the better. During college you can either complete a pre-med major or a major in almost anything else. My major was actually in history with a specialty in the history and the philosophy of science. Princeton did not facilitate double majors, but I had enough chemistry courses to have been a chemistry major as well. Whatever your major, you must take courses in the core premedical sciences. These include organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, biology, and probably calculus. Your grades in these core courses will be particularly important for medical school admission. They will also help prepare you for the MCATs (the standardized testing which plays a significant role in medical school admissions.) To have your medical school application seriously considered, outstanding grades and MCAT scores are important. Once your application is considered, one of the things that will be looked for is your exposure to the world of health and medicine during your undergraduate years. Particularly favorable are a track record of medical research and volunteering in a medical setting. For pediatrics it is especially useful if the volunteer work you have done is with children.

With four difficult years of undergraduate education completed, and an acceptance into medical school, you will settle in for four probably even more difficult years of education. The first two years are primarily focused on the study of basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, immunology, etc. The second two years are focused on the clinical sciences of medicine, surgery, neurology, psychiatry, obstetrics/gynecology, and of course pediatrics.

In the same way that you worked at excelling during high school so that you could get into an excellent college or university, and then in college you worked at excelling in order to get into medical school, during medical school you must work hard in order to get into a pediatric training program. To get a good pediatric training position it is important to score well on the National Medical Board examinations, to have solid academic performance in medical school, and in particular to have honors during the pediatrics rotations that you take.

During medical school there is plenty of opportunity to change your mind as to which area of medicine you would like to go ultimately into. This happens frequently. However, in my experience, more people change their minds and decide to go into pediatrics after having been exposed to the pediatric rotation, than those who come to medical school with the desire to go into pediatrics and instead pick something else.

After four years of undergraduate school and four more years of medical school comes Internship — that one year which involves more learning than the previous eight years combined. Night and day you eat, drink, and breathe pediatric training (the name “internship” comes from the same word meaning to be imprisoned). It is a long and difficult year! You will be almost continually sleep-deprived.” Internship is followed by another round of National Medical Board examinations. Upon the successful completion of internship and National Boards, you are ready to complete a Residency — an additional two years of intensive pediatric training. During these years you are always at the hospital (Resident implies somebody who lives at the hospital because you spend so much time there that you might as well live there!). After all this training many people pursue a fellowship in some particular area of pediatrics or further residency training as a Chief Resident.

Having completed all these years of training (and delayed gratification), you are finally ready to embark on a journey as a pediatrician.

For me, life in general pediatrics is much different from what it was when I started medical school. By the time you finish undergraduate school, medical school, and residency training, I suspect that pediatrics will go through even greater changes. Life in medicine is extremely volatile right now, especially economically. Physicians’ salaries are going down while training and education expenses are going up. Although the level of expertise required is very high, the burden of responsibly is incredible, and the hours are extremely long (a combination that is generally associated with high income), being a doctor is in no way a path towards easy money. Particularly in primary care (pediatrics, family practice, internal medicine), the salaries are at the low end of the physician spectrum. As a pediatrician, it will likely be many years before you are able to repay the loans that you took out for your education.

But for all the long arduous training and the relatively low compensation (given the amount of skill you will acquire, the years of training you put in, the risk and responsibility you take), a career in pediatrics is thrilling. It’s a joy to be present at the birth of a child, and deeply moving to help save the life of a child who is faltering in the birth process. It’s a delight to watch children grow, and to help their parents anticipate each stage of development. It’s deeply rewarding to walk with families as they mature.

Even so, make sure to not view your career as “a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” I found that each step of the journey — the undergraduate years, the medical school years, the residency training — to be rewarding in and of themselves. If you decide that you want to be a pediatrician, make the most of each stage of your journey — a significant part of your life, and the greatest part of your youth, will be spent during your training years. And afterwards, you will be one of the lucky few to enjoy this fascinating and deeply meaningful career.

February 6, 2008

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Alexia D

    Hi Dr. Greene,

    I am a sophomore undergrad in college currently, I have always wanted to be a pediatrician i even considered calling myself the “child whisperer” because of this unique gift i have. Okay enough of the rambling, Do you have to have volunteer hours before applying to medical school? Are there any other requirements to apply for medical school? And what are unique studying tips you have for the MCAT?

    Thank you!!

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  2. Eder Suastegui

    hello Dr. Greene

    i have one question for you, I want to become a pediatric but don’t if you have to be a us citizen or a permanent resident, so hopefully you can answer my question. Thank you

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    • Hello, Eder.

      International students can apply for medical school. Entry to medical school is tough for everyone. If you’re in high school now, take science courses, volunteer in health related fields, such as a hospital, and do the things it takes to get into an excellent college or university. That’s the first step.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  3. Ilyas

    Hi Dr.Green I really love medicine and I like to have a career in it. could you give a estimated expense on a pediatric, and how much you can earn from it. thank you very much

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    • Hi Ilyas,

      There isn’t a simple answer to your question. In the United States, the published average salary is $175,000 for a general pediatrician. This amount can be lower or higher — which is how averages work. In other countries, the average is likely different.

      Hope that helps.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  4. Julius Fisayo

    Sorry, I have a question that has been bothering my mind. I am studying presently physiology and I want to become a paediatric doctor. Please how is this possible. Thank you I will be waiting for your reply sir.

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  5. Julius Fisayo

    Sorry, I have a question that has been bothering my mind. I school in Nigeria study the course physiology and I want to become a paediatric doctor….please how is this possibly.

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  6. shell

    Hi, I am a sophmore’s at an Arts High School. I love theatre, but I am drawn to neurology. I was fascinated by a show called Blackbox. I really want to help people. My dad died from a GBM, AA4, when I was very young so my mom thinks this unexpected change could be due to my father. I don’t think I want to go into neuro-oncology. I would love to start a club at my high school bringing students together with doctors and conferences so that I and other students can start understanding different fields and the path necessary to get there. Thank you!

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    • Starting a club at your high school sounds like a great idea. I suggest you invite your own pediatrician or family practice doctor to speak. Don’t forget to include other healthcare professionals, like nurses in your speaking roster.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  7. Tenny

    Hi Dr. Greene,
    Your post was very inspiring and helpful! I’m a junior in high school and my dream career is to become a pediatrician. I volunteer many hours at my local hospital and coach kids basketball at my local basketball gym. My grades in high school are very good with two “B'” but my goal is always all “A’s”. I participate in many clubs and I am in my school’s Publication class where we create the yearbook and our school magazine. I know that I can do it and get through the years of school but I think I’m just a little nervous about if I would make it. Do you have any words of advice or encouragement? I am dedicated, compassionate, and a perfectionist but sometimes I get nervous.

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  8. Riya

    what percentage do we need in +2 to get admission for medicine

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  9. Riya

    how much grade do we need in +2 to get MBBS

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  10. Boakye

    Please is there a possibility for me to offer early childhood education at the university to become a paediatrician?

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  11. Gabriel Downs

    Very great article, I certainly like this blog, keep on it.

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  12. Phillip Mullins

    You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. I cant believe you aren’t more popular because you clearly have the gift.

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  13. Ted Chang

    Wow, I enjoyed your terrific post.

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  15. Chester Friedman

    This is one of the best websites I have read.

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  16. Melinda Krause

    Thanks for taking the time to share this, I love reading more about this.

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  17. Kenneth Hopkins

    One of my favorite posts.

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  18. Perry Rios

    I needed to create a small remark just to thank you with the superb solutions you’ve documented on this page.

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  19. Kevonia

    Can a student become a pediatrician even if they have messed up quite a few times in school? Any advice that you can give to an aspiring doctor?

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    • It depends on how old the student is when the “mess up”s happened. If young, then there’s still time to show real change in grades, extra curricular activities, and life style. If the student excels from a given point and has a good reason why (i.e. “I decided I wanted my life to count, so I turned everything around.”) there is still a chance.

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  20. Ibukunoluwa Falana

    Do Pediatrician have flexibilty? I understand that as a physician, you would most likely spend a substantial amount of your time at the hospital; Please can you explain how this is for a pediatrician.
    Also, is it possible to go through medical school, debt/ loan-free? Are there specific schoalrships avaible to help medical students through med-school; if there are can you please tell me a few?
    I would really appreciate your reply, please kindly reply, thank you so much!!

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  21. Mezel

    I wanna ask what is the undergraduate degree listing for a pediatrician. Because from all the university books, I can’t find one that relates to being a pediatrician. And if possible, what courses should I take?

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    • There isn’t a specific “pediatrician” undergrad degree. From undergraduate you go to med-school and declare pediatrics while in med-school. Look for pre-med degrees at the undergraduate level.

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  22. Oreana roman

    Well I wanted to ask what volunteering hours will help me in taking this journey I really hope you answer this question

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  23. Keanna

    What could middle schoolers do to gain knowledge or some type of experience to become a pediatrician?

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    • The best thing you can do is volunteer at a local hospital. If they don’t accept kids until a certain age, find out what that age is and start as soon as you can.

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  24. Tannie

    What is the best way to go about choosing a premedical school as an international student?

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  25. anusree lakshmi

    My question is after completing my +1 and +2 with any subject like bio, math, or commerce what will I have to do to become a pediatrician?

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  26. farsana

    I want to know what you were studying in higher secondary for becoming a pediatrician. Will you help me?

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    • Your next step to becoming a pediatrician is studying at the college or university level. In the United States, most colleges and universities would to see a well rounded course of study, with as many Advanced Placement courses as possible. They are also looking for high SAT scores and a demonstration of extra curricular activities. While clubs and sports at your school are good for your college apps, most colleges and universities would like to see that you’ve taken initiative to do something beyond that — start a new club, volunteer at the local hospital, travel to an underserved community and help rebuild a school, become an expert in a topic, start a business, etc.

      I hope that is helpful.

      Best,
      MsGreene

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  27. sandy

    what skills, personality, time, expertise, etc. should one have to be successful in this type of career?

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  28. sandy

    what other jobs are related to it? (smaller jobs to work your way up)explain them.

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  29. Calista Wolfe

    This information was very useful, but I have a few questions. I was wondering, what are the health requirements required to be a pediatrician? Is the pediatric field competitive? Is there any room for advancement for pediatricians? This information will be used for a school project so if you could reply as soon as possible, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

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  30. Cin

    Dr.Greene you have really help me make my decision to be come a pediatric helping infants and children. I wasn’t sure if i want it to become a pediatrician at first, after reading and learning about your experiences I know it will be challenging but I will l try my best……. I have a question about how do you pay for your studying like is there any scholarship?????? Thank you …. I’ll be waiting for your reply .

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