What Is a Pediatrician?

You want to become a medical doctor, and you love working with kids, so pediatrics seems right up your alley. Before you get ahead of yourself and start buying pediatric scrubs, you need to know what this children’s hospital career path actually entails. Here’s what you need to know about what pediatricians do and how to become one:

pediatrician smiling with young patient

What is a pediatrician?

A pediatrician is a medical doctor who specializes in treating children and young adults from birth through age 18. They see infants very frequently from birth through age 2 to give them vaccinations and make sure they are hitting developmental milestones. Then, they usually see children at least once a year thereafter for an annual checkup until the children are ready to transition to a general practitioner for adults.

Some example duties for pediatricians include:

  • Conducting annual physical exams
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medications
  • Reviewing the patient’s medical history
  • Discussing treatment plans with parents
  • Referring patients to the appropriate pediatric specialists

What skills are needed to be a pediatrician?

Because children aren’t as skilled at communicating their symptoms (and may not even be able to talk at all), pediatricians need to have excellent bedside manners and need to be very accurate at diagnosing conditions. Both the children and their parents may be distressed or in pain, so pediatricians need to be calm and patient when working with them. They must also be skilled at getting parents up to speed and on board with medical care, vaccinations and other treatments the child needs.

smiling young pediatrician in white lab coat

How does a person become a pediatrician?

Like other physicians and medical doctors, physicians must attend medical school, and in order to attend medical school, they must have first earned a four-year bachelor’s degree from a college or university. They must also pass the MCAT® exam, apply to medical schools and be accepted. Aspiring pediatricians must then complete four years of medical school and pass the requisite exams in order to earn their MD or DO degree. After that, they do a one-year internship in internal medicine or family practice and finally complete a residency in pediatrics that lasts a minimum of three years. They may also choose to pursue a fellowship in order to receive additional training in their chosen sub-specialty. These fellowships last between one and two years.

pediatrician giving baby a vaccination

How long does it take to become a pediatrician?

It takes pediatricians a minimum of 12 years of schooling to enter this field: four years for a bachelor's degree, four years in medical school, one year at an internship and three years in a residency. However, it may take up to 14 years to become a pediatrician if they choose to pursue an additional fellowship on top of their regular education. If you’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree and are thinking of entering the medical field, it will take a minimum of eight years before you can practice independently as a doctor.

How much money do pediatricians make?

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average annual salary for a pediatrician was $170,560 in 2018. The top 25 percent of earners made more than $208,000 annually. As with any medical professional, the pay can vary a lot from state to state and even within the state itself. Pediatricians in metro areas tend to get paid more than pediatricians in rural areas, for example. Pediatricians in certain popular sub-specialties tend to get paid more as well. And, of course, salaries tend to rise with experience as pediatricians spend more time in the field.

How is a pediatrician different from a pediatric nurse?

Pediatricians and pediatric nurses work closely together, but their positions are not interchangeable. The education path for nurses is different. They must first earn a BSN or MSN degree and then get certified as an RN and begin earning hands-on clinical experience. Once they have enough experience, they can take the National Certification Examination for Certified Pediatric Nurse. Passing this exam officially makes them a pediatric nurse. In many states, nurses don’t have the power to diagnose conditions and prescribe medications. That would be done by the pediatrician. Pediatric nurses also tend to spend more face-to-face time with patients vs. pediatricians.

Becoming a pediatrician is a very fulfilling career, but it’s a very demanding one. Make sure it’s what you want before embarking on your medical career.