Lately you’ve had babies on the brain -- not having one, but a medical career taking care of them. Becoming a pediatrician is one possibility, of course, but there are some others, with different educational and licensing requirements. Check out careers in neonatology, or become a physician assistant, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.
The Baby Doctor
Neonatologists concentrate on the youngest and sickest of babies -- those born premature, born with birth defects or who become seriously ill after birth. In some cases, neonatologists might be called in before the baby is born if a problem is identified in the womb. Like pediatricians, neonatologists complete medical school and a three-year residency. They spend an additional three years in a fellowship learning how to care for newborns who are sick enough to need intensive care. They must be licensed and typically are certified in neonatal medicine. Neonatologists are likely to confine their practice to the hospital rather than see patients in an office and are more likely to be found in large community or university hospitals, according to the HealthyChildren.org website.
The Physician Assistant is in
Although physician assistants are trained as generalists, they often choose to specialize after graduation. PAs have a bachelor’s degree -- usually in a science -- and complete a master’s degree as well, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They must be licensed in all states. Certification is optional, but PAs might choose to become certified as employers may prefer the extra credential. A pediatric PA gains her experience on the job or through post-graduate courses and continuing education. The American Academy of Physician Assistants reports that approximately 4 percent of PAs specialize in pediatrics. PAs must work under the supervision of a physician. They perform physician tasks, with a few exceptions such as surgery.
The Children's Nurse
But maybe you’d rather be a nurse. Pediatric nurse practitioners are similar in some ways to physician assistants. They must have a master’s degree and a license. Pediatric nurse practitioner programs typically recommend that a nurse gain some experience before entering the program. At the University of San Francisco, for example, RNs must have a minimum of one year’s experience in pediatrics, and two or more years is strongly recommended. Pediatric nurse practitioners are trained for a patient population -- such as children and adolescents -- and for a work setting, such as acute, critical or primary care. Depending on the state, pediatric nurse practitioners might work under a physician’s supervision or be independent practitioners, according to the BLS.
The Clinical Expert
Clinical nurse specialists are also nurses, but their focus is a little different than that of the nurse practitioner. A master’s degree is the minimum educational preparation. Like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists typically must be certified to practice. Pediatric clinical nurse specialists are clinical experts in the care of children and adolescents, but they don’t usually practice primary care. A clinical nurse specialist is more likely to be hospital-based, as her role is to serve as an educator, consultant or case manager in addition to providing clinical care, according to Johns Hopkins University. She might lead an interdisciplinary team and is the resident expert for families and patients who try to navigate the complexity of the health care system.
- HealthyChildren.org: What is a Neonatologist?
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Physician Assistants in Pediatrics
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physician Assistants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- Kids Health: What’s a Nurse Practitioner?
- University of California at San Francisco: MS Specialty Area - Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- Wright State University: Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.