How to Become a Pediatrician

How to Become a Pediatrician

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

The first step on the path to becoming a pediatrician (M.D.) is to earn a bachelor's degree in an undergraduate pre-med program.

While each medical school has different requirements for admission, they all focus on certain common areas of study, including:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics

A minimum of 3 years of undergraduate completion is required before applying to medical school while maintaining a high GPA (3.6+).

Due to the competitive nature of these programs, the candidates with the most success are well-rounded with work, volunteer, extracurricular, and shadowing experience as well.

If you have three years of college but no bachelor’s degree, you can still be accepted to medical school. There are post-baccalaureate programs designed to help students catch up by providing the courses needed to apply to medical school.

For applying, you must submit a copy of transcripts from any college and/or graduate school you’ve attended. You’ll also need letters of recommendation and scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). If you aren’t satisfied with your MCAT scores, you can retake the exam.

The American Medical College Application Service can help with submitting one application to multiple medical schools. All college students planning to enter medical school should take certain courses, regardless of their undergraduate major.

Different medical schools may have varying requirements, so the following is intended as a basic guide. The preparation timeline below outlines the suggested courses:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Biology I & Lab
  • General Biology II & Lab
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Nutrition for Atheletes
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Lower Body Injury Evaluation
  • Athletic Training Clinical I & II
  • Exercise Testing
  • Upper Body Injury Evaluation
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Health in the US
  • Health Education & Planning
  • Healthcare Management
  • Health Policy
  • Capstone
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

Extracurricular activities are strongly encouraged, as well. Some suggested activities might include participating in a pre-health advisory program or joining other clubs and organizations.

You may also consider establishing a relationship with a local doctor who would allow you to shadow him or her for a few days.

2. Take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.”

These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings. In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations.

The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program. Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system.

Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.

The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Ethics
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Psychology

During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.

Clinical rotations include areas like pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and internal medicine Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D.

Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD. The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.

4. Earn the Required License & Certification

Every state requires physicians to pass a national, standardized exam. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so contact your state's medical board for specific requirements.

For an aspiring pediatric physician (M.D.), the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is required. The USMLE is sponsored by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States (FSMB).

Aspiring physicians can find sample questions, tutorials, and other study materials on the USMLE website. This exam has a limit of 6 attempts, and they may not be retaken to improve scores.

Pediatricians can also be certified in a subspecialty by taking an additional subspecialty certifying exam.

5. Complete a Residency Program (3 - 4 Years)

After completing med school, you aren’t finished yet. Now it’s time to choose your specialty and complete your residency. These residency programs are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training experiences.

Aspiring pediatricians have the opportunity to receive specific training related to children's medicine. Residents work hands-on with patients during clinical rotations and are enabled to assess their own work and case studies.

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, a pediatric residency lasts three years. During that time, residents learn about general pediatrics and newborn care.

The American Medical Association’s online FREIDA service is an interactive database of over 9,400 graduate medical education programs.

These programs are all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. There is also information on over 200 combined specialty programs.

6. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

To stay certified, pediatricians are required to continue their education. The American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) have developed a four-part program to help physicians stay up-to-date on advancements in pediatrics.

Pediatricians are required to earn continuing education credits. They are regularly evaluated on their professionalism, medical knowledge, practice techniques and communication skills by taking an exam every ten years.