Pros And Cons Of Becoming A Pediatrician: MD Career Paths - (2024)

According to a landmark Harvard University study, “a vital and productive society with a prosperous and sustainable future is built on a foundation of healthy child development. Health in the earliest years… lays the groundwork for a lifetime of well-being.” Receiving proper healthcare throughout one’s life is essential, of course, but it’s especially critical in the early years. That’s when we’re most susceptible to germs and bacteria, and when conditions that might otherwise develop into chronic lifelong handicaps are identified and treated. That’s when we develop the healthcare habits that will—or won’t—sustain our health through adulthood.

Pediatricians provide care during this critical period of life. Pediatricians deal with all aspects of children’s health and well-being, including young people’s:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Developmental health
  • Psychosocial health

Becoming a pediatrician requires many years of hard work and tons of smarts. For those with the skills and determination to see it through, it can be a gratifying and lucrative profession. In this article on how to become a pediatrician, we’ll cover:

  • Pros and cons of becoming a pediatrician
  • Kinds of pediatrician careers
  • Educational commitment to become a pediatrician (spoiler: it’s a lot)
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a pediatrician
  • Further accreditation or education for pediatricians
  • Resources for becoming a pediatrician
  • Typical advancement path for pediatricians

Pros and cons of becoming a pediatrician

Becoming a pediatrician takes a lot of time, effort, and money. While it can be a fulfilling and lucrative career, it’s certainly not for everyone. Here are some pros and cons to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a pediatrician.

Pros of becoming a pediatrician

  • Helping children: Many people choose to enter the medical profession to help others. Treating kids impacted by an illness, accident, or other diagnoses can be very satisfying.
  • Positively influencing the youth: Not all pediatric specializations require dealing with critically ill kids. Some are geared towards fostering healthy habits, such as getting immunizations, exercising, and improving diet. It’s not all doom and gloom.
  • Inspirational patients: Kids can smile and laugh through all sorts of difficulties, and can bounce back from hard times faster than many adults. It can be amazing to witness.
  • Prestige: A lot of people will respect the work you do—as they should.
  • Pay: On average, pediatricians earn $183,240 per year. Those working in outpatient care centers earn closer to $200,000 annually, while those working in specialty hospitals earn over $200,00 per year.

Cons of becoming a pediatrician

  • Watching children suffer: While empathetic doctors will have a hard time seeing any kind of patient suffering, seeing kids in pain or dying can take an even greater emotional toll. You’ll need to be able to compartmentalize to endure in this profession.
  • Communication: Kids can’t always express their needs or feelings. You must have an excellent understanding of medicine and pediatric illnesses to diagnose a child accurately. This is especially true with infants and toddlers who can’t articulate how they feel.
  • Dealing with parents: Interacting with parents/caregivers can be difficult since some will understandably be stressed and upset. Pediatricians must have lots of patience to navigate these situations.
  • Medical school: Becoming a doctor takes a long time and a lot of money. Training as a pediatrician is an all-consuming (quite literally) process.
  • Medical school debt: Yes, you will earn a lot of money as a pediatrician, but you will also owe a lot of money. On average, new doctors’ education debt comes to $200,000.

Kinds of pediatrician careers

Pediatricians work to improve the physical, mental, developmental, and psychosocial health of children and young people.Most pediatricians work as primary care doctors in an outpatient clinic setting, although many choose to specialize in a subfield of pediatrics and end up working in a department of a general hospital (such as a neonatal intensive care unit) or in a specialist children’s hospital.

Pediatricians not only treat diseases and illnesses but also work towards preventing them through education and promotion. Some trained pediatricians also choose to work in medical research, either primarily or exclusively.

The American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) administers examinations for the following 15 specialities:

  • Adolescent medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Child abuse pediatrics
  • Critical care medicine
  • Developmental-behavioral pediatrics
  • Emergency medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hematology-oncology
  • Hospital medicine
  • Infectious diseases
  • Neonatal-perinatal medicine
  • Nephrology
  • Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology

Other certifications, such as neurosurgery, are offered through individual boards.

To be ABP-specialty certified, pediatricians must complete three years of extra training after their initial certification. For those who want to be doctors and not mathematicians, that’s a three-year residency, plus three more years for specialization, which is six years in total. There are some accelerated programs available. There is also the opportunity to undertake multiple specialties, which, of course, adds more time to your pre-certification period.

How you specialize will depend on what kind of work environment you seek and your skillset. The emergency room is a lot different from a rehabilitation center, and a surgeon doesn’t necessarily make an excellent psychiatrist or vice versa.

If becoming a doctor isn’t the right path for you, pediatric nursing could be a good alternative. The career path is generally less time-consuming, but with many of the same rewards.

Educational commitment to become a pediatrician

Like many medical careers, pediatrics takes a lot of training and education. It’s a massive time and financial commitment.

Nobody just walks into medical school with a white coat and says, “I’m ready.” Applicants typically pursue a pre-med track, which involves completing a science major such as biology or chemistry, at a four-year institution. It’s not always necessary to have studied the sciences during your bachelor’s degree, since there are bridge programs available. However, if you want to save time and money, making the decision early and sticking to it is your best bet.

After undergrad, you’ll need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Applicants sometimes take a few months to study for the test after graduation.

Passing the MCAT is essential for securing a place in med school (unless you go somewhere that doesn’t require it). Work experience in the medical field is also helpful.

Medical school typically takes four years, and involves both classroom and clinical experience. In their last year, students pick a specialty and go off to complete a three- to seven-year residency in that area. The residency is usually the most intense period of training and experience for medical students.

A general pediatric residency is three years. According to Johns Hopkins University, it works this way:

  • PL–1: general comprehensive pediatric training in an accredited program.
  • PL–2: general comprehensive pediatric training in an accredited program, but with increased responsibility for patient care and for the supervision of junior house staff and medical students.
  • PL–3: general comprehensive pediatric training in an accredited program, but with increasing responsibility for patient care and supervision of junior house staff and medical students.

If it’s not clear from the itinerary above, repetition makes perfection.

With great time commitment comes great financial commitment. The average cost of one year at a public medical school in 2017 was $34,592 and $58,668 for in and out-of-state students respectively. At a private college, the number is consistently on the high side of $50,000. The old adage “You have to spend money to make money” is apt here.

Unless you come from a very wealthy background, this is likely to put you deep in debt. However, medical careers in the USA, including pediatrics, pay very well. It might take years (over a decade sometimes) to pay off your med school loans, but you’ll likely enjoy a comfortable lifestyle while you do.

If you want to get out of debt quickly, there are several federal loan forgiveness options, especially for those who are willing to work in high-risk areas.

Licensure and accreditation for becoming a pediatrician

To practice as a pediatrician in the US, you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which allows you to apply for a license.

The exact criteria for licensing vary from state to state, since individual medical boards set requirements.

Further accreditation or education for pediatricians

Individual state boards also set their own license renewal and continuing education requirements. Some professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, offer continuing education courses in topics like:

  • Adolescent health
  • Allergy & immunology
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Developmental/behavioral pediatrics
  • Emergency medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Orthopedics
  • Otolaryngology

Resources for becoming a pediatrician

The following websites provide essential information for anyone considering medical school and a specialization in pediatrics. They cover important topics such as how and where to look for financial aid for medical school, preparing for the USMLE, and how to choose a medical school.

Typical advancement path for pediatricians

If you manage to complete nearly a decade of education and a three-year residency and acquire the necessary certifications and licenses, the chances of finding a job as a pediatric doctor are good. The unemployment rate is 0.5 percent. The world keeps making more kids, and most of them (sadly, not all of them) see doctors.

New pediatricians work alongside more experienced professionals at the start of their careers to hone knowledge and skills. After several years’ experience, some may want to establish their own practice. This is an excellent way to become your own boss, and possibly to gain a better work-life balance. Others choose to specialize or change settings, such as from a clinic to a hospital.

Some pediatricians might have the opportunity to become a chief medical officer (CMO) or medical adviser in a hospital. These administrators oversee the management of hospitals and other medical centers and ensure that patients receive the best possible care, but that’s getting too far ahead. Right now, just focus on passing the MCAT.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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