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What is a Pediatrician, and What Do They Do?

If you are considering a career as a pediatrician, you may be curious about how to become a pediatrician or what you can expect out of a career in pediatrics. Like many medical fields, pediatrics has its share of challenges and rewards. There are also many unique specialties to choose from that allow you to shape your career into something personally meaningful to you. Read on to learn more about choosing pediatrics as a long-term career.

What is a Pediatrician?

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in caring for infants, children, and young adults. They are very familiar with diseases that commonly affect younger people, and they work to diagnose and treat common childhood illnesses and injuries. Some pediatricians also research new treatments and medications and their effectiveness in children.

How do you become a pediatrician?

Like any other doctor, pediatricians must start by attending a pre-med undergraduate program followed by a comprehensive medical school program. After graduating from medical school, aspiring pediatricians will complete a residency program designed to give them hands-on experience before beginning to practice on their own. Depending on their chosen specialty, some pediatricians may also complete a fellowship program or additional post-residency training before entering their own practice.

How long does it take to become a pediatrician?

After graduating high school, it typically takes 11-15 years to become a pediatrician. Students must complete a 4-year pre-med undergraduate program followed by 4 years of medical school and 3-7 years of residency and fellowship training. The total length of training required depends on any chosen specialty and the type of work environment preferred by the training physician.

What skills are needed to become a pediatrician?

Since pediatricians will often be working with children who can’t explain their conditions well, it is important for these doctors to have patience and good communication skills. Communication is also important for pediatricians who must share medical information with parents, who need to make informed decisions regarding the care of their children. These parents may feel overwhelmed and their sick children are often scared and in pain, so pediatricians must also be compassionate and caring. They will often work long hours and be on their feet for long periods of time, so stamina and endurance are also valuable qualities.
In certain chosen specializations, other skills are needed to be successful. For example, doctors who plan to work in the emergency unit of a children’s hospital will need strong problem-solving skills and the ability to work well under pressure. Doctors who want to open their own practice will need good leadership and organizational skills, as they will likely be leading a team of nurses and administrative staff to keep the office running smoothly. Pediatricians who prefer to work in research facilities will need to feel comfortable with sifting through large amounts of data and conducting experiments to uncover a bigger picture. No matter which area they choose, pediatricians have multi-faceted careers that require a diverse skill set to be successful.

What does a pediatrician do?

For most pediatricians who work as primary care doctors, their routine tasks will be very similar to those of an internist. Pediatricians will ask questions to diagnose underlying medical issues, educate patients and their families about proper care and disease management, write prescriptions for appropriate medications, and make referrals to other specialists when needed.
However, the process of diagnosing, treating, and managing medical conditions is complicated by the fact that their patients are often too young to comply with any recommended treatments or medications on their own. As such, pediatricians must enlist the help of parents, guardians, or other family members to help manage illnesses or injuries. They must also ensure than anyone responsible for the care of an adolescent patient is fully aware of the risks associated with any conditions once a patient is diagnosed.

What tests or procedures does a pediatrician perform?

The most common type of procedure performed by a pediatrician is a physical exam. Pediatricians often see healthy children and adolescents for annual check ups and sports physicals, which are often required for school-aged children who attend public schools or participate in youth sports programs. As part of this physical, a pediatrician may take a patient’s vital signs, test reflexes, and check for common growth issues, such as spinal deformities or joint misalignments.
Pediatricians may also order X-rays, blood tests, urine samples, or other specialized tests, although these procedures are typically performed by another specialist, such as a phlebotomist. Some pediatric specialists can perform other tests and procedures, and some specialists, such as a pediatric transplant specialist, may even perform surgery.

What specializations can a pediatrician choose?

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) officially recognizes 20 subspecialties within the field of pediatrics. Pediatricians can specialize in any of the following areas:
• Adolescent Medicine – These doctors specialize in working with young adults, particularly those between the ages of 11 and 21.
• Child Abuse Pediatrics – Specialists in this area are trained to recognize, treat, and prevent child abuse. These specialists often work in collaboration with law enforcement officers and social workers.
• Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics – When children experience developmental or behavioral issues at an early age, it can have a significant impact on the rest of their lives. These specialists work to identify and correct these types of conditions through diagnosis, education, and advocacy.
• Hospice and Palliative Medicine – These doctors work to maximize quality of life for children who are fighting life-threatening diseases.
• Medical Toxicology – Children can often be accidentally exposed to drugs and other toxic chemicals; these specialists work to diagnose and treat these situations.
• Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine – These pediatricians commonly work in NICU units caring for sick newborn babies.
• Pediatric Cardiology – Pediatricians in this specialty work with children who have heart conditions and other cardiovascular issues.
• Pediatric Critical Care Medicine – Doctors who choose this specialty work with critically ill children who need advanced treatments for life support, such as ventilators, feeding tubes, organ support, or other treatments.
• Pediatric Emergency Medicine – These specialists will often work in the emergency room at a children’s hospital.
• Pediatric Endocrinology – Endocrinologists support patients with hormonal abnormalities or other issues with the endocrine glands, including juvenile diabetes or gland disorders.
• Pediatric Gastroenterology – These doctors specialize in diagnosing and treating digestive system disorders in infants and children.
• Pediatric Hematology-Oncology – These doctors receive specialized training to recognize and treat pediatric blood disorders and cancers.
• Pediatric Hospital Medicine – This specialty trains doctors to manage pediatric-focused units within a hospital, often preparing them for leadership or management roles.
• Pediatric Infectious Diseases – Pediatricians in this specialty care for children with complicated and severe infectious diseases.
• Pediatric Nephrology – These specialists diagnose and treat diseases of the kidneys and urinary tract in children.
• Pediatric Pulmonology – These pediatricians work to prevent, identify, and treat any diseases of the respiratory tract, including childhood asthma and growth deformations.
• Pediatric Rheumatology – This specialty is similar to a musculoskeletal doctor for adults; this specialist treats childhood conditions dealing with joints, muscles, bones, or tendons.
• Pediatric Transplant Hepatology – Specialists in this field learn to assess liver disease in adolescent patients and qualify patients for potential liver transplants.
• Sleep Medicine – When specializing in this field, pediatricians work with children to manage and improve sleep disorders.
• Sports Medicine – Pediatricians who choose this specialty often work in an osteopathic practice or other sports medicine facilities; these doctors prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries or other conditions that often arise from participation in sports.

Careers in pediatrics

Like many other doctors, the work environment for pediatricians is largely dependent on the chosen specialty (if any). Pediatricians can have a career working in a research facility, hospital wards, emergency clinics, traditional offices, or even as community liaisons.
A pediatrician’s career will also be shaped by which geographic location he or she chooses, as well as

Salary expectations

According to Salary.com, the average U.S. pediatrician earned $201,602 per year as of March 2020, though this figure can vary significantly based on experience, geographic location, and type of practice. Pediatricians who work in affluent, urban and suburban communities can typically expect to earn more than those working in smaller or more impoverished areas.

Projected job growth

For students considering a career in pediatrics, projected job growth is healthy and growing. Since pediatricians care for patients from birth up through age 21, their patient base is relatively stable. Since the U.S. population continues to rise and birth rates are stable or increasing, the need for pediatricians is also projected to grow.
Improved access to medical care for children and increasing incidents of chronic diseases in children will also continue the trend of an increasing need for pediatricians. Those who are willing to work in lower-income areas may be on the lower end of the pay scale, but there is likely to be plenty of demand for pediatricians in these areas.
For those considering a career in medicine, choosing the path of a pediatrician provides a unique opportunity to help identify and correct medical issues before they become chronic issues into adulthood. Pediatricians also save the lives of many children each year, helping them to grow into happy, healthy adults.