Most professions rely on public trust to some extent, but few more than doctors. Doctors have direct responsibility for their patients' lives and health, and people need to have confidence in their physicians' competence. That's why doctors are licensed, and why they're expected to earn certification in their field of medicine. For example, pediatricians have to be certified by the Board of Pediatrics for general practice -- and certified a second time if they specialize.
License to Practice Medicine
The most fundamental qualification for any doctor is a license to practice. It takes eight years to get to that point, starting with an undergraduate degree. Premedical degrees can be in any major, as long as they provide the basic science and math courses you need for medical college. Medical school takes another four years, divided between classroom and practical training. You spend your first two years primarily in laboratory and classroom instruction, learning about science, medicine and medical law. The third and fourth years you'll spend in supervised clinical rotations, treating patients. When you graduate with a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy degree, you can apply to your state's medical board for a license.
Residency and Board Certification
After medical school graduation, you're a doctor but you still aren't fully trained. To become a pediatrician, you have to find a place in an accredited pediatric residency. Those last for three years, during which you'll learn how to diagnose and treat children. By the end of your residency, you should be prepared to practice independently. If your supervising physicians rate your competence and professionalism as satisfactory, you'll be eligible to take certification exams administered by the Board of Pediatrics. If you pass, you can call yourself a board-certified pediatrician.
Like adult medicine, there are many subspecialties within pediatrics. Pediatricians may specialize in areas such as pediatric neurology, pediatric cardiology, allergy and immunology, or pediatric hematology/oncology. You'll need to spend two to four years in a specialized fellowship to qualify, learning the skills you need as part of a care team with experienced physicians and other caregivers. At the end of your fellowship, you must take a second set of certification exams from the Board of Pediatrics. You also need to maintain your certifications by committing to a program of continuing education.
Pediatricians make pretty good money by most standards, although they're at the lower end of the range for physicians. A 2011 special issue of "Modern Healthcare" magazine reviewed several major physician salary surveys, reporting average pediatrician salaries ranging from $161,732 to $229,041 a year. In comparison, orthopedic surgeons' salaries averaged as high as $576,350 a year. Although pediatricians work longer hours for less pay than many other physicians, they report some of the highest levels of job satisfaction in Medscape's 2012 survey of physician lifestyles. As career choices go, making kids feel better seems to be a pretty good one.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Physicians and Surgeons
- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Pediatrics
- American Board of Pediatrics: A Guide to Board Certification in Pediatrics
- Medscape: Profiles in Happiness -- Which Physicians Enjoy Life Most?
- Modern Healthcare: Par For Doc Pay? 2011 Special Issue
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images