The Journey to Become a Pediatrician

Question

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

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. 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
Published on: September 16, 1996
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

Hi Rosemary,

There are lots of ways you can start learning early to become a pediatrician. And even if you don’t decide to become a pediatrician, they can help you with other careers.

Here’s one great idea — learn human anatomy! To be a doctor, you must memorize all the organs, bones, muscles, vessels, types of cells, body systems — every part of the body. One fun way to do that is with an Anatomy Coloring Book. This is NOT a child’s coloring book. It’s what medical students use to help them learn. Why not get started now?

Another great way is to volunteer. That can be challenging depending on your age, but anywhere you can volunteer — from a hospital to a food bank, to a daycare center — will help you prepare to be a pediatrician.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hi, my name is Rosemary, I want to become a pediatrician and would like to know ways I could start learning early so that incase i become one in future, i would know what to do. If you have any ideas please let me know.

Hi Rosemary,

There are lots of ways you can start learning early to become a pediatrician. And even if you don’t decide to become a pediatrician, they can help you with other careers.

Here’s one great idea — learn human anatomy! To be a doctor, you must memorize all the organs, bones, muscles, vessels, types of cells, body systems — every part of the body. One fun way to do that is with an Anatomy Coloring Book. This is NOT a child’s coloring book. It’s what medical students use to help them learn. Why not get started now?

Another great way is to volunteer. That can be challenging depending on your age, but anywhere you can volunteer — from a hospital to a food bank, to a daycare center — will help you prepare to be a pediatrician.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hi Hawa,

Becoming a pediatrician is a great goal. You will have to overcome your fear of looking at blood in order to succeed. The best way to do that is in very small steps. That a biology class where you need to direct a frog (no blood, but you get to see inside something that was alive). Then work your way up. Small steps take time, but they are worth it to achieve your goal.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hello Dr.Greene,
I’m a high school student and have a dream of becoming a Pediatrician but currently I’m not taking subjects that will make me achieve this dream. If given the opportunity to take the subjects that will make me a Peadiatrican should I change considering the fact that I’m actually scared of blood and looking at accident scenes.

Hi Hawa,

Becoming a pediatrician is a great goal. You will have to overcome your fear of looking at blood in order to succeed. The best way to do that is in very small steps. That a biology class where you need to direct a frog (no blood, but you get to see inside something that was alive). Then work your way up. Small steps take time, but they are worth it to achieve your goal.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hi,
My name is Sylvie,I really love children so i decided to become a pediatrician before. I made this decision i have been looking at some major children illness and i have studied them. But i still need some tips in being a good pediatrician as you. please if you have any ideas let me know

Thanks a lot

Hi Jane,

One of the best things you can do is to volunteer at a hospital so you can see first hand what a pediatrician does. That is particularly difficult now, but you may be able to do that in the future. In the meantime, taking online courses or watching videos online about health, biology and anatomy will help you prepare for future classes.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hi my name is Jane. I want to become a pediatrician and would like to know ways I could start learning early. If you have any ideas please let me know.

Hi Jane,

One of the best things you can do is to volunteer at a hospital so you can see first hand what a pediatrician does. That is particularly difficult now, but you may be able to do that in the future. In the meantime, taking online courses or watching videos online about health, biology and anatomy will help you prepare for future classes.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hello Brakhia,

It’s wonderful that you are thinking about ways to kill the CoV-2 virus that is responsible for COVID-19. Some researchers have theorized heat may indeed be helpful, but at this time there does not appear to be any well-documented studies on the subject. Until there are studies, we won’t have definitive answers to your question.

Having an inquiring mind is one critical trait for doctors. Keep studying science and asking questions. That will take you a long way on the path to becoming a doctor.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hey my name is Brakhia,Upson and i am going to 7 grade this year. I want to become a pediatrician but the thing is i want to start learning early. I am really weak in science but i am working my way up. I know a little about the body, after all i help take care of my 82 year old great grandpa he that has really bad parkinson’s. I am sure your familiar with COVID19, In my opinion i think that the best way to kill it is threw the sun and heat because they say it lives in your nose and starts to affect the rest of your organs so what if there’s a way to heat up the virus to destroy it or weaken its power, That’s my opinion. But if you have any information about the pediatrician thing please contact me.

Hello Brakhia,

It’s wonderful that you are thinking about ways to kill the CoV-2 virus that is responsible for COVID-19. Some researchers have theorized heat may indeed be helpful, but at this time there does not appear to be any well-documented studies on the subject. Until there are studies, we won’t have definitive answers to your question.

Having an inquiring mind is one critical trait for doctors. Keep studying science and asking questions. That will take you a long way on the path to becoming a doctor.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Im in 8th grade as well and my project led me to this site ! Exept im in chicago.