Becoming a Pediatric Surgeon: Job Description & Salary Info

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A surgeon's average salary is about $240,000. Is it worth all the education and training requirements to become a surgeon specializing in pediatrics? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to see if being a pediatric surgeon is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Pediatric Surgery

Pediatric surgeons treat injury and illness through surgical procedures on children and infants. If you're considering a specialized medical career, consider the following pros and cons:

Pros of Being a Pediatric Surgeon
Make a difference for children with harmful to life-threatening conditions*
High occupational wages (average salary of about $240,000 a year for all surgeons as of 2014)*
Job growth is faster than average (18% predicted for 2012-2022 for all physicians and surgeons)*
Prevent or mitigate future health problems in children*

Cons of Being a Pediatric Surgeon
Many years of training are needed (9-12 years post-baccalaureate)*
Long educational track puts most medical students into debt*
Irregular work hours and emergency calls highly possible*
Must communicate clearly to possibly emotional parents*
Many hours standing and bending over*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Department of Labor's O*NET Online Job Analysis Tool

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A surgeon treats an illness or medical condition through an invasive operation using tools and instruments. Surgeons must follow techniques and procedures when safely removing, investigating, diagnosing or repairing body tissue within a person's body. The American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) says pediatric surgeons specifically treat children and infants and provide guidance to parents or guardians for a child's medical treatment. Pediatric surgeons must have an emotional sensitivity to children and be able to effectively communicate with parents.

Pediatric surgeons often specialize in treating specific development ages of children, such as neonatal pediatric surgeons who help treat infants who were born prematurely or who have a birth defect. In addition, trauma pediatric surgeons are trained to help a child who was injured or who suffered an accident.

Job Prospects and Salary

Although data is not available for pediatric surgeons specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the average annual salary of all surgeons was around $240,000 in May 2014. Overall, the BLS expects an employment growth rate of 18% between 2012-2022 for all surgeons and physicians combined, which is faster than average. Factors which can impact demand and a physician's earnings include advanced technologies that are making medicine more efficient and ongoing changes to insurance and reimbursement practices in healthcare. Demand for doctors is high in low-income and rural areas, according to the BLS.

Career Requirements

Education Requirements

Future surgeons need to hold a bachelor's degree and attend four years of medical school. Undergraduate credits in the natural and physiological sciences like anatomy or biology are recommended to gain acceptance to medical school. Once you enter medical school, your first two years are spent in classrooms and laboratories, learning about the human body and being trained to investigate illnesses and treat patients. The last two years of medical school rotate students through various specialized areas, allowing students to observe cases and surgeries being handled by supervisory doctors at local or regional hospitals.

Training Requirements and Exams

There are three phases to the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Step 1 exams are taken during medical school, Step 2 exams are usually taken immediately following medical school. Step 3 is taken during one's residency. Residents work with patients and gain hands-on experience under the supervision of a licensed doctor. For surgeons, the minimum amount of years in residency that the American College of Surgeons (ACS) recommends is five years. However, the ACS states that pediatric surgeons must add an extra two years of residency beyond that in order to learn extra skills under other pediatric surgeons.

Students who wish to become Medical Doctors (M.D.s) follow the USMLE track, while students who wish to become Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s) take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). Although each exam is a national examination, the BLS states that each state varies on training, education and testing requirements for surgeons for licensing.

What Do Employers Look for?

Many employers need pediatric surgeons trained in a related medical specialty to help enhance the analysis of the patient. Examples may include pediatric trauma or pediatric cardiology. The following job postings could be seen as of April 2012.

  • An Oklahoma hospital needed a pediatric surgeon who could work in the specially designed pediatric emergency center. The hospital has a residency program and a need for job candidates who would be ready to teach residents about pediatric surgery.
  • A California women and children's hospital network needed a pediatric surgeon to join a team of 25 pediatric surgeons trained in specialties like high risk infant care or spine surgery.
  • A North Carolina hospital was looking for a pediatric surgeon to join the 6-person pediatric surgery team. The candidate should have been trained in traumatic pediatric surgery and have five to seven years experience in pediatric surgery.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Certified

The BLS states that certification is optional for surgeons, but becoming certified may highlight your level of professionalism and expertise. Certification is provided by a number of professional groups, including the American Board of Surgery (ABS). The ABS provides certification for specific types of surgery such as pediatric surgery. The certification exam is five consecutive oral examinations that concern a number of focused specializations in pediatric surgery, such as thoracic, head and neck, trauma and cancer surgery. You can only take the examination within an absolute five year time frame. Missing one of the examinations means starting over in a new five year interval. Re-certification is needed every ten years, with the final three years recommended to prepare for the examination.

Get Specialized

Most employers do want their pediatric surgeons trained to handle a specific medical condition a child might experience. The APSA states that trauma is the number one killer of children per year in the U.S., so being trained to handle trauma, along with other specializations, can be a good strategy for future employment. The specialization helps you take care of children who are critically hurt and can give you an opportunity to teach parents or the child proper, preventative ways to not be injured again.

Other Careers to Consider

Physicians

If you want to interact more with patients, but do not want to perform invasive procedures, you could become a general physician. A physician is a doctor who analyzes a patient, gives a diagnosis and consults with the patient or the family about medical procedures. Most general physicians do not perform surgery. You can also specialize in pediatric medicine to treat children. Pediatricians require the same four years of medical school, but just three years of residency. The BLS reported average annual earnings of about $169,000 for pediatricians.

Physician Assistants

If you still want to work in the medical field with physicians and surgeons, but would prefer to focus on providing routine care, you could become a physician assistant, or PA. According to the BLS, physician assistants often directly view a patient when they are sick or at the hospital. Although they may be supervised by a physician, often physician assistants perform many of the same duties of the physician on uncomplicated cases. Unlike the four years of medical school and residency needed to be a physician, a master's degree is all that's needed to become a physician assistant. The BLS anticipated a 30% increase in employment for PAs during the 2010-2020 decade. The average annual salary for a physician assistant was around $89,000 in May of 2011.

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