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The requirements to become a pediatrician vary a great deal from country to country, but usually center on lengthy education and extensive hands-on training. People who are planning to enter this specialty must typically spend at least ten years in medical studies and dedicated pediatric training after completing high school, and it often takes longer. Having the time and initial interest is important, but getting through the door often also requires top grades and a very strong academic record. Individuals who are serious about becoming a pediatrician one day may want to start preparing as early as possible.
Importance of Early Learning
Pediatrics, like most specialties in the medical profession, is somewhat competitive. This means that it is very important to plan ahead and begin building a record of positive academic achievement early on, usually starting in secondary school. Earning top scores in math and science classes is a good way to prepare for the tougher courses that await in university classrooms and can make it easier to get into the best programs.
It is almost always possible to overcome a poor record with hard work, but getting things right from the beginning is generally the better course. When medical training programs are reviewing applicants, they often look at each candidate’s complete record. Demonstrated performance in courses related to medicine — like chemistry, biology, and anatomy — may make future success more likely.
Where a person lives, in many ways, determines the timing of his or her decision to become a pediatrician. In the United States, students typically enter into undergraduate university programs with a lot of freedom to choose their major and future career path. Those hoping to attend medical school must usually take a set number of “pre-med” courses, most of which center on math and science, but for the most part, they are free to study anything they choose. After earning a bachelor’s degree, they are eligible to apply for medical school, which usually requires special entrance exams and other requirements like application essays, interviews, and reference letters.
The system is very different in most other countries. In the UK, Australia, and most of Europe, for instance, students enter a medical “track” of studies right out of high school. Admission is often very competitive, and students are often only eligible if they scored above a certain threshold on exams given at the completion of their high school studies. In these countries, missing this window to enter the medical track can make becoming a pediatrician very difficult, if not impossible.
Most Asian countries, including India and China, follow a similar early exam model. Students who do not show promise for medical studies early in their academic careers are often not eligible to attend training programs later on in life, whether for pediatrics or any other specialty.
U.S. Medical School Model
The United States is one of the only countries to support a medical school model that exists wholly independent of any other student achievement rubrics. In this country, anyone can apply to medical school, regardless of background, age, or training. Most schools require a bachelor’s degree and a score from a recent Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), and they often prefer students with top academic credentials. There are no hard and fast cutoffs, however, and schools have been known to overlook certain negatives if a candidate otherwise has a promising application packet.
No matter where an individual is starting his or her studies, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to choose pediatrics right away. A big part of becoming a pediatrician is learning about medicine generally, then adding to that knowledge by placing specific emphasis on the care of children and babies. Most of the time, this means that a student will need to complete a basic medical degree followed by an internship and a residency in pediatrics. All in all, these commitments can add four to six years more of training.
Residencies and internships are usually seen as opportunities for hands-on learning. Students usually shadow other more experienced professionals during these years and may begin treating patients independently, too. They typically rotate through different settings, like hospitals, clinics, and private practices, in order to get a feel for all aspects of the job. This makes them well-rounded practitioners while also providing a lot of information and experience so that they can make an informed choice about where they want to work permanently.
Exams and Necessary Certifications
Hands-on training is rarely all it takes to become a pediatrician. Most countries want all practitioners to be certified and licensed as a way of proving their competence, which more often than not requires a series of exams. Pediatric candidates often take these exams at varying intervals during their internships and residencies in order to prove that they are actually learning from their work. Exams cover routine care essentials as well as questions about complex diseases, problems, and conditions. The exact content varies from place to place, but the goal is almost always to ensure that all candidates are capable of providing good care to both present and future patients.
Pediatric medicine has a tendency to change rather quickly. New discoveries and technologies improve the basics of care and often change the “standard” way of doing things. Most countries and localities require pediatricians to stay up to date on all of these trends and, as a result, often require practitioners to attend regular seminars and informational programs about new trends. This sort of mandatory additional learning often comes under the banner of “continuing education.”
Things to Think About
There are many reasons why someone may want to become a pediatrician, but it is usually a good idea for him or her to think broadly about the field before committing himself or herself to the rigorous training required. Many people cite the broad desire to “work with kids” as their main reason for entering the profession. This is a great place to start, but it is important for individuals to realize that working as a pediatrician means that they will see the good alongside the bad and may actually end up dealing with far more sick children than well ones. It can be emotionally draining to treat very ill children, and consoling parents when treatments do not go as well as planned can be very difficult.
Even when there are no problems, pediatricians often have to have a special sort of patience for dealing with parents and adult caregivers. Instead of working with one patient at a time, these medical professionals be working with patients as well as their parents, which can impact the care they must provide. Good rapport with children isn’t the only thing they need because they’ll spend a lot of time answering questions and helping adults take care of their kids. In this respect, a calm demeanor and caring bedside manner are essential, and often matter more than the degrees they’ve earned when it comes to keeping patients and earning respect.