Last Updated: 03/17/15
Pediatricians are physicians who are specialized in caring for the emotional, physical and social health of children from the time they are born all the way up until young adulthood (generally no older than 21 years of age). These physicians diagnose and treat diseases and conditions that develop in their young patients as well as provide preventative care and advice for dealing with the various social, biological, social and environmental influences that children experience as they grow up. Pediatricians also sometimes explain behavioral and health issues that are common in growing children as they go through these phases or approach them. The majority of patient visits are generally minor injuries, common colds, sports physicals, yearly check ups and immunizations. Pediatricians also coordinate referrals to specialists when a dangerous condition or dysfunction is diagnosed or suspected.
Like other physician specialties, you can sub-specialize in many different areas including: adolescent medicine, developmental-behavioral pediatrics, medical toxicology, neonatal-perinatal medicine, neurodevelopmental disabilities, pediatric cardiology, pediatric critical care medicine, pediatric emergency medicine, pediatric endocrinology, adolescent medicine or developmental-behavioral pediatrics. As a pediatrician you might work in a hospital, a clinic, a research university or a private practice office. Where you work will determine how many hours you will work and if you will be expected to be on call.
While pediatricians are not on the top of the list of highest paid physicians, they do seem to be one of the happiest according to a recent 2012 Medscape physician lifestyle survey. In the survey, pediatricians scored their happiness with an average score of 4.00 on scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the happiest. They ranked 6th out of 25 specialties, tying with anesthesiologists (one of the highest paid specialties).
In order to become a pediatrician, you must first complete a four year medical school program followed by a three year residency training program. The pediatrics residency program includes mandatory rotations in newborn care, general pediatrics and then several other areas that you can choose. If you are going to sub-specialize you will need to complete three more years of specialized training in that area. Before you can practice you will need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
If you want to become a doctor to make a lot of money, pediatrics might not be the field for you as it is one of the lowest-compensated physician specialties. According to a 2010 physician compensation survey published in Modern Healthcare, the annual salary for pediatricians ranges between $160,000 to $228,700. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for general pediatricians to be $165,720. The BLS also reported that pediatricians who worked in outpatient care centers earned the most at around $182,000 per year while those who worked at universities earned the lowest at $99,190 a year. Pediatricians who work in private practices or own their own practice tend to make the most, upwards of $220,000.
The outlook for pediatricians, and all other physicians is very good. The BLS reported a projected 22% increase for job opportunities for medical professionals between 2008 and 2018. As the baby boom population reaches retirement age, many physicians are expected to retire which will open up many opportunities. Prospects tend to be best in rural and low income areas, as they have a harder time attracting physicians.