Friday, October 24, 2008

How To Become a Pediatrician

Over the last year or so, I've written an extensive series of articles on a range of medical topics. Most of them have been published on either Helium, or Associated Content. It's been fun, and has brought in a small pile of pennies as well.

I don't have a ton of time to blog today, but I figured I'd copy one of my more popular articles here. This is an article on the path to becoming a pediatrician. The original on Helium can be found HERE.



A career as a doctor is a long and sometimes grueling path. But it can also be quite challenging and a heck of a lot of fun if you take the right approach. As a recent medical school graduate, I'm still close enough to the process of becoming a doctor to appreciate the effort and focus it takes to be given the responsibility of caring for people as a doctor. Although I'm not a pediatrician, the path to become one is almost identical to what I choose to do as a doctor.

Becoming a doctor is not a short or quick journey. You can expect to spend years of your life studying, working, and struggling to get that "MD" added to the end of your name. There will be days and weeks that not fun and exciting. There will be nights when you question your ability. There will be many days when you question your sanity. But in the end, if it's truly what you want to do, it's all worth it.

The path starts in High School, and even sooner in some cases. You absolutely must learn good study habits. This doesn't mean that you have to study all the time, rather it means that you must learn to be disciplined and efficient with the time you do have to learn. Becoming a doctor is a marathon, not a sprint. A proper balance of learning from books and learning about life is essential. Take time off when you need to, but when it's time to memorize the Kreb's Cycle or the major genetic lysosomal storage disorders, well, hop on it!

Good grades are essential. You aren't going to become a pediatrician, you absolutely must get good grades. No one is going to trust the care of their children to you if you are failing classes. Period. Now, this doesn't mean that you have to get an "A" in every course you take throughout your academic career, but on average, you should be working hard and scoring solid grades.

In High School, you should focus on a broad education. Do NOT just focus on science classes. Doctors of all types need to be well rounded. You are going to treat a wide range of people over your career and it never hurts to be able to relate to all types of people and backgrounds. Learn to write well. That is more important for a doctor than most people realize.

Going in to college, you are going to need to graduate from a 4 year University or College. You will need a BA or BS to get in to Medical School. Aim to get in to the best college you can, but you don't need to go to an Ivy League school to be a doctor. Doctors come from all ranges of Universities.

When you are picking a major in college, focus on what you enjoy and excel at. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE A SCIENCE MAJOR! There is no such things as a specific "pre-med" major. Any major can be "pre-med". If you enjoy biology or chemistry, by all means, do that. But if you are like me and enjoy reading and writing, then be an English Major (or History, or Classics, or Music etc.). Contrary to a lot of advice you are going to get, the choice of your major makes very little difference to Medical School admission committees. In fact, some Medical Schools look favorably on students who have a different and unique educational path. Once you start Medical School, you are going to be focusing on science all the time. If you want the chance to broaden your education, your undergrad years are the time to do it.

Of course, you will have to complete a basic set of science classes in college, no matter what major you choose. In general, this means that you will need a minimum of a year of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. Most Medical Schools also require at least some math. Each Medical School publishes a list of the specific requirements they have for admission. These requirements are compiled in to a book called the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements). This book is available at any University Bookstore or at Get it your freshman year in college and use it as a reference guide for picking the right classes in college. You don't want to graduate and find out that you are missing several basic requirements to apply to Medical School. This book will guide you. Buy it. Read it. Love it.

You will also need to take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) in college. You will likely take this exam sometime near the end of your 3rd year or the start of your 4th. This assumes you are going to apply to start Medical School immediately after graduating from undergrad. Most students DO NOT do this. Most students take a few years to go out and work, live a little and learn a bit about the world outside of University life. But at some point you will take the MCAT.

The MCAT should really be named the MViciousRabidTiger. It will be a humbling experience for most students. For me it was the first time I was not able to score well on something on the basis of just being a generally bright guy. If you don't respect this exam by devoting the proper amount of time to preparing, it will chew you up and spit you out. It is a comprehensive exam covering all the basic science requirements to apply to medical school and it's not an easy test. The MCAT alone is responsible for many "pre-med" students suddenly having a change of heart and picking a new career path. There's no point in getting in to tremendous detail here as you will learn more about it as you prepare to take it.

Once you are in Medical School, you will take the same classes as any other future doctor. In your 4th year of Medical School, you will have some choices of areas you may want to focus on. If you want to be a pediatrician, this would be a good time to take a few electives in pediatrics.

During Medical School, you will face a series of three licensing exams named the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Step 1 of this exam is taken after two years of Medical School. Step 2 comes in two parts and is taken when you are near graduation. If you thought the MCAT was bad, these exams make that test look like a cute cuddly kitten. The USMLE is considered by some (usually those taking it) to be the hardest standardized exam ANYWHERE. Good luck... you're going to need it.

At the end of Medical School, there is a process by which you apply for your first job as a doctor. The process is known as "The Match" and how it works is one of the Great Mysteries of the Universe. In The Match, you will apply to Pediatric residency programs. It is your post Medical School residency training where you become a pediatrician - all Medical School graduates are the same. There are no "majors" in Medical School.

Once you are accepted to a Pediatric residency training program and graduate from Medical School, you are almost there! Of course, by this time, you have been studying and in school for over eight years after High School, but hey, all good things come to an end eventually, right?

You can expect your Pediatrics residency to take about three years. At this point you are a working doctor, albeit a young and inexperienced one.Your workload will double from Medical School and you will spend three years working grueling hours. Consider it the sprint at the end of the marathon - only a few more months and your journey to become a pediatrician is over!

After three years in residency, during which you will be flogged by senior doctors, barfed on by sick kiddies, and have streams of baby urine hose you down daily in an aquatic salute to your hard work and dedication, you will finally be let loose on the world and be free to venture forth and cure the children of the world from fevers, earaches and swallowed marbles.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I am a high school student planning pursue a pediatric career. I found the answers to my questions by reading your article, thank you! (: