Becoming a Pediatrician: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A pediatrician's median annual salary is approximately $163,000, but is it worth the education requirements and debt? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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A Pediatrician Career: Pros and Cons

Pediatricians provide medical care to infants, children, adolescents and young adults. They diagnose and treat illnesses, medical conditions and injuries. You'll need to look at the pros and cons to see if becoming a pediatrician is the right career for you.

Pros of Becoming a Pediatrician
Job security (expected 18% job growth 2012-2022)*
High salary ($163,000 median annual salary as of May 2014)*
Many career options (14 recognized subspecialties)**
Flexible hours (26% have worked part-time)***
High job satisfaction (in 2004, four out of top ten most satisfied specialist physicians were in pediatrics)***
Can work in most geographic locations*

Cons of Becoming a Pediatrician
Requires at least six years of schooling beyond an undergraduate degree*
Exposure to blood and germs*
Medical school is costly (average debt of 2010 graduates was approximately $181,000)***
May have long hours, as well as night, weekend and holiday work*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Board of Pediatrics, ***American Academy of Pediatrics.

Career Information

Job Description

Pediatricians provide medical care to infants, children, adolescents and young adults. They diagnose and treat illnesses, medical conditions and injuries. Easing the lives of children with chronic conditions is another concern. They're also on the lookout for psycho-social problems that affect their patients. Pediatricians can be medical doctors (M.D.s) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.s). D.O.s utilize all forms of treatment that medical doctors do, but emphasize holistic practices, the musculoskeletal system and preventive medicine. Pediatricians can work in private practices, general hospitals, children's hospitals, private or government clinics, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or as researchers and teachers.

Career and Salary Info

In addition to traditional workplaces, the military employs many pediatricians. Additionally, pediatrics is one of the most satisfying medical specialties to its practitioners, according to various surveys from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of all types of physicians would grow by 18% from 2012-2022. The AAP said there would be an increased demand for pediatricians, specialists in particular. The BLS said the median salary for a pediatrician was around $163,000 as of May 2014. While that's higher than average, an AAP survey of graduating residents in 2010 found that those with debt carried an average load of about $181,000 from college and medical school. This included their spouse's educational loans if they were married.


While many pediatricians practice general pediatrics, they can additionally obtain certificates of special qualifications in 14 subspecialties from the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). Some of these subspecialties include pediatric critical care medicine, child abuse pediatrics and adolescent medicine. Others subspecialties are pediatric versions of general medical specialties such as cardiology, oncology, nephrology and emergency medicine. The American Osteopathic Board of Pediatricians (AOBP) offers a Certification of Special Qualifications in areas including pediatric allergy and immunology, pediatric pulmonology and neonatalogy.

What Are the Requirements?

As a pre-medical undergrad, the BLS suggests that you take courses in physics, biology and chemistry as well as social sciences and the humanities. Admission to medical school is competitive, with schools considering your score on the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT) as well as grades, character and leadership ability. The Association of American Medical Schools (AAMC) said only 46% of medical school applicants were accepted in 2010.The Liaison Committee on Medical Education accredits M.D. medical education programs. Students seeking a D.O. need a school accredited by the American Osteopathic Association.

You'll spend the four years of medical school in classrooms and laboratories, as well as in hospitals and clinics getting hands-on training in diagnosis and treatment. After med school, M.D.s enter paid residencies where they spend several years training in pediatrics. D.O.s usually serve 1-year internships before working as pediatric residents. In order to practice as an M.D., you must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. A D.O. must take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. Pediatricians will also need board certification from the ABP or the AOBP.

Job Postings from Real Employers

The main requirement to get a job as a pediatrician is to have the necessary education and training. Since pediatricians are in demand throughout the country, many job postings seem intent on selling the doctor on the job, describing the amenities in the area and offering to help with relocation costs. Here are some examples of job postings from real employers from March 2012:

  • A children's hospital in Texas was looking for a child abuse pediatrician to help with its mission of protecting children and supporting families. The ad said the pediatrician could be a certified child abuse specialist or simply experienced in dealing with abuse victims.
  • A pediatrics practice in California was looking for another doctor to join the staff. This ad encouraged new graduates to apply and said they would assist in paying off student loans.
  • A medical group in Hawaii needed a pediatrician to work part-time in its office and on in-patient hospital call. Emergency experience and board certification was desired.
  • In Michigan, a children's hospital was looking for an academic pediatrician who could participate in clinical research. This candidate would also be teaching pediatric and internal medicine students and residents in nursery, ambulatory and inpatient settings.

How to Stand Out

Expanding your base of knowledge is the main way to stand out in pediatrics. In addition to earning APB certification in specific subspecialties, pediatricians can seek APB Certificates of Added Qualifications in fields including hospice and palliative medicine, sports medicine and pediatric transplant hepatology. A candidate must be certified in an approved subspecialty, then complete an accredited training program in the field that qualification is being sought.

Explore Combined Training

Pediatricians who want to combine working with children with another specialty can take advantage of the ABP's cooperative with arrangement with several other medical specialty boards. Combined programs include pediatrics/dermatology, pediatrics/anesthesiology and pediatrics/emergency medicine. If you complete training for both specialties and pass the tests from all boards, you'll be 'double-boarded.'

Another combination that will greatly increase your employability is called 'med-peds,' a combined program of internal medicine and pediatrics. You'll be able to treat both adult and child patients. The ABP and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology have a collaborative program, also.

Alternative Careers

Medical researcher or scientist

If you like medicine, but don't think you're cut out for working with patients, you can become a medical researcher or scientist. You can enter this field by becoming a physician through the usual route or you can attend a medical school that offers a joint M.D./Ph.D. program. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) says most students complete the joint program in seven or eight years. A Ph.D. in Biological Sciences is another path to this career. Both a medical degree and a Ph.D. are useful.

Medical researchers spend the vast majority of their time in clinical, lab-based or transitional research. They also teach and perform clinical service. They may need to hold a medical license. They can work at universities, hospitals or pharmaceutical companies. The BLS predicted that employment would increase by 40% from 2008-2018, much faster than average for all occupations. The median salary for a medical scientist was $76,000 as of May 2011.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

If you want to help care for children, but don't want the years of schooling and the debt that go with becoming a pediatrician, you could become a pediatric nurse practitioner by earning a master's degree. Nurse practitioners diagnose illnesses and prescribe medicines. You'll need to complete a bachelor's degree program to become a registered nurse and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to obtain a license. After that, you must complete a 1- or 2-year master's degree program in advanced pediatric nursing and health care. You must pass the Nurse Practitioner certification exam administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

The BLS predicted that employment of registered nurses would increase by 22% from 2008-2018, much faster than average for all occupations. Nurse practitioners, the BLS reported, would be especially in demand in rural areas and in inner cities. In 2011, the BLS reported the median annual salary for registered nurses, including nurse practitioners, as $66,000.

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