What Degree Does a Pediatrician Need? (And Other FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 29, 2022 | Published November 9, 2021

Updated August 29, 2022

Published November 9, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pediatricians are healthcare professionals who work closely with babies and children to monitor their physical and mental well-being. Becoming a pediatrician takes many years of additional schooling and dedication, but can be a rewarding career for someone who enjoys working around others and helping children. Understanding more about the degrees needed to become a pediatrician can help you determine the next steps to becoming a licensed physician.

In this article, we discuss what degrees a pediatrician needs, how to become one, how long it takes to become a pediatrician and explain some of a pediatrician's essential skills.

Related: What Is the Salary of a Pediatrician? Salaries by State

What degrees does a pediatrician need?

Becoming a pediatrician involves many additional years of schooling to obtain both a bachelor's and doctorate degrees. Below are the required degrees for students seeking to become a pediatrician:

Bachelor's degree

When working to obtain your undergraduate degree, there is no specific degree that medical schools require to qualify for their programs. You can choose from a variety of undergrad degrees, as long as you complete the required prerequisite courses such as biology, chemistry, physics and other maths and sciences. Check with the medical schools you're interested in to determine the classes needed for admission.

Although there is no specific bachelor's degree for students aspiring to become a pediatrician, some popular majors to choose from include:

Bachelor of Science in biology

A biology program concentrates on life science, which is the study of living organisms such as plants, animals and humans. In this program, students take in-class courses and lab courses. In-class courses focus on teacher-led instruction and learning new material, while lab courses give you the chance to have firsthand experience exploring what you've learned in class.

The curriculum during the final two years of a biology program consists heavily of the genetic and cellular makeup of living organisms. It's beneficial to choose classes that focus on the development and structure of the human body, since you plan to work with children once you become a pediatrician.

Related: 15 Common Bachelor in Science Degrees

Bachelor of Science in human physiology

A human physiology program is a commonly chosen major for students looking to continue their education in med school once they've graduated with their bachelor's degree. It's similar to a biology program because it contains many biology-related courses, but includes additional coursework in anatomy and physiology, which concentrates on the structures and functions of the human body. Other common courses included in a physiology degree are chemistry and math. During the final two years of a human physiology program, you can choose classes that relate more closely to your chosen medical specialty.

Bachelor of Science in nursing

A Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) provides a lot of fundamental medical knowledge and gives you the option to become employed as a nurse while working towards your medical degree. A BSN concentrates heavily on the required science courses when applying to medical school. Some of the other courses in the program focus on pharmacology, mental health, geriatric health and pediatrics. BSN programs also allow for clinical field experience by providing students the opportunity to work with patients in a variety of different health settings.

Medical degree

After you've obtained your bachelor's degree, the next step is earning your medical degree. You can choose to get a doctorate of medicine (MD) or a Doctorate of Osteopathic medicine (DO). An MD treats and diagnoses various conditions. A DO is similar to an MD with a focus on more holistic healing methods.

A medical degree usually takes four years to complete. The first two years courses focus on coursework about the human body, clinical practice, medical ethics, public health and patient advocacy. During your third year, you practice what you've learned by caring for patients in different healthcare settings, such as surgery, family practice, psychiatry and pediatrics. Under the supervision of physicians, you communicate with patients, gather patient information, create and follow diagnostic plans and collaborate with other healthcare providers. In your fourth year, you focus solely on your chosen specialty, pediatrics.

Related: Osteopathic Doctor vs. MD: Definition and Differences

What are the steps to becoming a pediatrician?

There are many steps involved in becoming a pediatrician and it's helpful to know what to expect in advance so that you can make goals for yourself as you begin to take classes. Not every state or medical school has the same guidelines, so consider researching your state's requirements as well. The general steps to becoming a pediatrician include:

1. Get the appropriate degrees

The first step in becoming a pediatrician is completing the necessary schooling. This includes getting your bachelor's degree and a doctorate degree in medicine. Obtaining these degrees takes students approximately eight years to complete if they're taking full-time courses.

2. Complete your residency

After you've finished medical school, you complete a three-year residency program working in pediatrics. During your residency, your experiences vary each day depending on your work environment. You can expect to do a lot of hands-on learning under the supervision of an attending physician, and may occasionally teach interns and fellow residents as well. There are several subspecialties you get the opportunity to work in, such as neonatal intensive care, adolescent medicine, oncology and emergency medicine.

When applying to a program, here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Research: Research all the pediatric residency programs in the area you plan to work to determine which would be the best match for you based on your interests and career plans. Try to apply to 12 to 15 programs.

  • Apply: Gather all the required materials needed for the application and apply to the programs you have the most interest in. Some materials many applications request include your letters of recommendation, medical school performance evaluation, curriculum vitae and personal statement.

  • Interview: Each residency interview usually takes a few hours to complete and consists of speaking with faculty and residents in the program. Develop a list of questions you'd like to ask them and prepare to answer many of their questions as well so that both parties can better determine if the program is the right choice for you.

  • Rank: After your interviews, rank the programs based on conversations had during the interview, the location of the program and whether your goals align with what the program can offer you in terms of education and growth.

  • Accept: Learn which programs you matched with and determine which you'd like to accept for your years of residency.

Related: Common Residency Interview Questions (And How To Answer Them)

3. Get licensed and certified

Before you can work as a pediatrician, the next step is to get certified. MD graduates take the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), while DO graduates take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). The exams have three parts. Students usually take the first two while in medical school and take the final one while in the residency program.

Although not required, many pediatricians choose to become board certified through the American Board of Pediatrics. Candidates who have already completed medical school and a residency program and have a medical license are qualified to take the exam. You can choose to become certified in pediatrics or in a subspecialty like developmental-behavioral pediatrics, pediatric endocrinology or adolescent medicine.

How long does it take to become a pediatrician?

It takes approximately 11 to 15 years to become a pediatrician. After you've graduated from high school, a bachelor's degree takes about four years to complete. Then you get your medical degree, which takes another four years. After that, you take part in a residency program which is usually three years. After becoming licensed, some pediatricians choose to continue their education and complete a fellowship to specialize in a specific area of pediatrics. Fellowships can take between two to three years to complete.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become a Pediatrician (Plus Other FAQs)

What are some essential skills you need as a pediatrician?

Below is a list of some of the fundamental skills for pediatricians:

  • Decision-making: Pediatricians make crucial decisions for their patients daily, so it's important for them to be confident and quick in their decision-making skills.

  • Problem-solving: One of a pediatrician's daily tasks is to solve health-related problems for their patients.

  • Time management: Pediatricians see many patients throughout the day, so it's essential that they're efficient at managing their time with each family they see.

  • Communication: The ability to communicate effectively is an important skill because pediatricians communicate with nurses, parents, children and other physicians throughout the day.

  • Detail-oriented: It's important for pediatricians to have thorough attention to minor details so they prescribe the correct treatments.

  • Compassion: Some of the patients pediatricians see are in pain or sick, so having compassion for others is essential. It can lead to more successful patient outcomes and has the ability to show your patients you care.

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