How Long Does It Take To Become a Pediatrician?

November 4, 2022
If you decided to pursue a career as a pediatrician, then congratulations! Pediatrics is an extremely rewarding profession that exposes you to a wide range of pathology, patients, and cultures. The path to becoming a pediatrician is a long journey, but it is worth it. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how long it takes to become a pediatrician, from pre-med to residency.

What are my career opportunities as a pediatrician?

As a pediatrician, you will treat infants, children, and adolescents in a variety of clinical settings. Typically, people may associate pediatricians with well visits and vaccines. However, pediatricians can work as general pediatricians providing comprehensive care or specialize in a particular specialty, like endocrinology, infectious disease, or cardiology. You can work in an inpatient unit, emergency room, outpatient clinic, or urgent care.

Regardless of where you decide to work as a pediatrician, you will come across all types of cases and patients that will be rewarding and stick with you for years to come.

How long does it take to become a pediatrician?

For many prospective pediatricians, the journey to becoming a pediatrician generally includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and three years of residency before becoming a practicing pediatrician.

However, no two medical journeys are the same. Some may take additional time after undergrad before attending medical school, choose to pursue a subspecialty fellowship after residency before becoming an attending physician, or even pivot to medicine from a different career path altogether. While the following outline is a general roadmap to becoming a pediatrician, there are various alternative paths to take along the way.

Premedical experiences: ~4 years

The pathway to pediatrics begins with the decision to apply to medical school. There are two types of medical schools: allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools. Many students will apply to medical school during their senior year of undergrad or after they graduate.

Undergraduate education

Most students will major in biology or chemistry during undergrad to complete the prerequisite courses for medical school. These prerequisite courses may also prepare you for the MCAT entrance exam.

During this time, you should also consider volunteering at schools, clinics, or hospitals and pursuing research experiences that allow you to serve pediatric patients and families. Medical schools like to see that you prioritize serving your community and gaining clinical experiences.

Alternative paths

If you take a nontraditional path to medical school, do not be discouraged. Your experience prior to medical school is important and can provide an interesting story for your personal statement and interview. You will, however, still need to take the prerequisite courses and the MCAT. There are post-baccalaureate programs that fulfill this requirement for those who choose to pursue medicine after college.

Medical school: 4 years

Even if you have set your mind on pediatrics, it is important to enter and go through medical school with an open mind. Even though you know you will be ultimately pursuing pediatrics, each class and rotation is important. You may not realize it now, but your surgery rotation will still be important when you’re practicing pediatrics.

Preclinical years

The first two years of medical school are classroom based and are focused on learning anatomy, physiology, biostatistics, microbiology, and ethics. You will have lectures, small groups, and lab sessions. During this time, you will also have opportunities to see patients and practice physical examination skills. At the end of your first two years of medical school, you will take the USMLE Step 1 if you are in an allopathic medical school, or COMLEX if you are in an osteopathic medical school. 

Clinical years

During the third year of medical school, you begin your clinical rotations in general surgery, internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry. Some schools may reserve emergency medicine for your fourth year. Throughout each of these rotations, you are supervised by residents, advanced practice providers, and attending physicians. You will examine and present patients, assist and perform procedures, and attend lectures. At the end of each rotation, you will have to take a shelf exam for that specialty. You also will get a grade for the entire rotation.

During the fourth and final year, you take USMLE Step 2 (or COMLEX), apply for residency, and do elective rotations. You will complete a rotation called an “acting internship” in pediatrics, where you will function as a pediatrics intern. During this year, you can also decide to take a rotation in a subspeciality that interests you. It would be a good idea to take rotations in a few pediatric subspecialties.

Residency: 3 years

Most medical students interested in pediatrics will apply to three-year pediatrics residency programs during their final year of medical school. As a pediatrics resident, you will rotate between various clinical settings under the supervision of attending physicians.

Intern year

Intern year is your first year of residency, and it can be grueling. You will spend the majority of this year in the general pediatrics inpatient unit with a newborn nursery, emergency department, outpatient general pediatrics clinic, and a few electives.

During your intern year, you will take the USMLE Step 3 exam. This is the last of your USMLE exams. In the second year of residency, you begin to have more responsibility and spend less time on the floors and more time in the pediatric intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, and electives.

Final year

In your third year of residency, you are a senior resident, and it is your responsibility to manage the units and teach the new interns. Here you will be running the floors and ICUs, and your attendings will lean on you for your support.

The third year of residency is also when you decide what you want to do after you graduate residency. You may choose to pursue a fellowship or work as a general pediatrician in a primary care clinic, pediatric hospitalist, or urgent care. During this time, you will register for the American Board of Pediatrics Board Exam (offered every October) and apply for your medical license, depending on which state you will ultimately work in.

There are combined residency programs with pediatrics and other specialties, such as internal medicine-pediatrics, commonly referred to as med-peds. This is a good option to pursue if you want to treat adults and children. 

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By Tanya Masand, MD

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