Doctors who specialize in the care of babies, children, and teens are called pediatricians. These licensed doctors have completed medical school and a pediatric residency and have the skills to care for growing kids. With their specialized training and education, they can ensure a child is developing correctly, diagnose childhood diseases, and treat common childhood illnesses such as ear infections or colds.

It takes years of education and dedication in order to become a pediatrician. Depending on the specializations chosen, it can take between 11 to 15 years to become a pediatrician. General pediatric residencies are three years long, while specializations such as surgery, anesthesiology, or oncology can take five years or may require an additional fellowship.

Pediatricians can work anywhere medical care is provided for children, including general or children’s hospitals, doctor’s offices, government agencies, outpatient clinics, and community health centers.

The demand for pediatricians is declining slightly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Between 2019 to 2029, there will be an anticipated 500 fewer jobs for doctors in this field nationally. The decrease in jobs is predominantly due to the rising cost of healthcare. As costs increase, fewer people are inclined or able to access medical services. Also, there is an increase in demand for less expensive physician assistants and nurse practitioners who can provide many of the same services.

The path to becoming a pediatrician is a long one. Keep reading to learn what it takes to enter this rewarding field, including specializations, potential earnings, typical job duties, and top programs.

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Pediatrician Specializations & Degree Types

Pediatricians must first complete either a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) degree. Upon completion of an MD or DO, doctors must complete a residency in pediatrics. This residency is typically three years long, although it can be longer depending on specialization. Many pediatric residency programs are combined with an internal medicine residency, requiring four years instead of three.

There are many pediatric specializations available to doctors. Most specializations are completed through fellowships, which is an additional training program after residency. Options for specialization include:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Surgery
  • Pathology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Hematology
  • Pulmonology
  • Cardiology
  • Child abuse
  • Developmental and behavioral
  • Endocrinology

Admissions Requirements for Pediatrician Programs

Admissions to medical school are highly competitive and require candidates to have completed an undergraduate degree. Other requirements include sitting for the MCAT exam, prerequisite coursework, letters of recommendation, and health care experience.

Admission to a pediatric residency program is also highly competitive. Most programs utilize a national service called “The Match.” Doctors must visit and interview at their prospective residencies, and then they rank their choices through The Match. The residency programs do the same with the doctors they have interviewed. This process is completed each year in March.

Pediatrician Program Accreditation

It is imperative that doctors attend an accredited school as this is a requirement for admission to residency and licensure. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredits doctor of medicine (MD) programs, and the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) accredits doctor of osteopathy (DO) programs. Residency programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

On-Campus Pediatrician Residency Programs

All doctors must complete four years of medical school and then complete a three- or four-year pediatric residency. Below is a list of medical schools that have top pediatric residency programs.

University of California, San Francisco – School of Medicine

The School of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco aims to graduate doctors who are learners. This perpetual learning attitude helps doctors are empathetic and patient-centric. Students in this program will also learn how to work in collaborative teams, allowing them to learn from other disciplines and provide patients with the best possible care.

The pediatric residency at UCSF is ranked four in the nation by US News & World Report. Doctors can choose to complete either the general pediatric residency or a more specialized one in pediatric neurology. There is also a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency for doctors who want more general medical training.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $55,036 per year

University of Pennsylvania – Perelman School of Medicine

The Perelman School of Medicine was the first medical school and first teaching hospital in the country. As such, they have a long history of excellence with a strong focus on research to develop new treatments. Each year there is over $814 million in sponsored research that happens at the school.

The pediatrics residency falls under internal medicine at this school and takes four years to complete. Doctors will complete their training at both the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), providing them with a balance of experiences with a wide variety of patients. While completing their residency, doctors will have the opportunity to complete additional training on essential issues such as bioethics, mental health, business in medicine, health care disparities, and more.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $65,497 per year for tuition and fees

Harvard Medical School

The Medical School at Harvard is one of the most prestigious programs in the country. Students who attend here have access to world-class faculty and facilities as well as the prestige of having completed their education at Harvard. The school’s overall mission is to help relieve human suffering by training doctors to be scientists, physicians, and healers.

Pediatric residencies through Harvard medical school are completed at Massachusetts General Hospital. This residency is also in internal medicine, so doctors receive well-rounded training. Often, doctors will see both adults and children during the same clinical session. Over two dozen outstanding pediatric medical faculty members help make this program one of a kind.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $64,984 per year for tuition and fees

Johns Hopkins – School of Medicine

With consistent rankings as one of the country’s best medical schools, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is an outstanding program. Students complete their education and training at both the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. While there is a strong emphasis on patient care, there is also an emphasis on research that advances the medical field.

There are seven different pediatric residencies at Johns Hopkins. They are pediatric neurology, pediatric surgery, general pediatrics, pediatrics in urban health, pediatrics and medical genetics, and anesthesiology and pediatrics. The programs vary in length, and some can even lead to double board certification.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $56,500 per year for tuition and fees

Baylor College of Medicine

The MD program at Baylor College of Medicine trains new doctors to be inquisitive scientists who know how to stay up to date with the latest medical advancements to provide superior patient care. This program boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the first exam for medical licensing, which is above the national average of 97 percent. Students complete their education and training at the world’s largest medical complex- the Texas Medical Center.

While there are general pediatric residencies at Baylor, the highly specialized fellowships help set this school apart. Doctors can complete fellowships in developmental-behavioral pediatrics, pediatric ultrasound, pediatric endocrinology, pediatric sports medicine, and more. Each of the residencies and fellowships has expert staff that trains the next generation of doctors in their specialty.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $40,942.75 per year for tuition and fees

University of Washington – School of Medicine

Since 1946 the University of Washington School of Medicine has been training world-class doctors. Due to the school’s location in the Pacific Northwest, students have the opportunity to train at a world-class trauma center, at affiliated community hospitals, and in rural clinics. This provides students with a unique and balanced education that prepares them to serve diverse populations. In fact, all students are required to complete rural rotations in order to know how to care for patients who don’t live in urban centers.

With over 114 residencies and fellowships, there are many paths doctors can choose at UW. Aspiring pediatricians will find the 26 residencies and fellowships to provide ample opportunities to receive general or specialized training.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $69,444 per year for tuition and fees

Online or Hybrid Degree Programs Related to Pediatrics

Due to the hands-on nature of medical school and residency, there are no hybrid or online programs, although some online course components may be available. However, there are online programs for pediatric nurse practitioners and students who are curious about pursuing medicine and pediatrics.

Duke University School of Nursing

Nurses who have work experience in pediatrics can complete the online pediatric nurse practitioner program at Duke University School of Nursing. Nurses can choose to complete either the primary care or acute care path, depending on their interests. While there are some on-campus clinical experiences, the majority of the courses can be completed through distance learning.

The required clinical hours can often be completed at a nurse’s workplace, allowing them to advance their skills without putting their career on hold or relocating. Graduates can earn certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: Seven semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,838 per credit

Regis College

The online master’s of science in nursing with a specialization in pediatrics at Regis College prepares nurses to provide primary care services to children. Upon completing this program, nurses are eligible to sit for the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) exam and be licensed as nurse practitioners.

While having a nursing degree can be helpful, students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field are eligible to apply for this program. Graduates of this program will be able to diagnose, treat and manage childhood illnesses as well as evaluate growth patterns and provide caregiver education.

  • Location: Weston, MA
  • Duration: 28 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $1,170 per credit

Maryville University

Depending on the education level already completed and career aspirations, there are four different online pediatric nurse practitioner programs offered at Maryville University. Nurses can complete either a master’s of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice degree. The path they follow is determined by their previous education.

All of the programs prepare nurses to provide pediatric primary care services. Throughout the program, nurses will gain hands-on experience caring for patients by completing required clinical hours.

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: Varies based on the program
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition:$813 per credit for MSN programs and $897 per credit for DNP

University of California- Los Angeles Extension

It can be hard to determine if pursuing a career in pediatrics is right or not. The pediatric medicine program through the University of California- Los Angeles Extension provides aspiring medical students with an overview of pediatric medicine to determine if further studies would be a good fit.

Students complete two courses: one is an overview of pediatric medicine and the other pediatric genetics. This program is designed to be a stand-alone education for medical professionals who need pediatric training or pre-medical and pre-health students considering pursuing pediatrics.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: Two semesters
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Tuition: $1560 for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pediatrician?

Because doctors must complete an undergraduate degree, medical school, and a residency, it can take between 11 to 15 years to become a pediatrician. The timeline varies based on what pediatric speciality a doctor pursues (if any).

How To Become a Pediatrician – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

The long journey to becoming a doctor starts with completing high school or obtaining a GED. Aspiring doctors should focus on classes such as math, science, psychology, and language arts. High school can be an excellent time to develop good study habits and earn high grades to prepare for further education.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program (Four Years)

There are a variety of degrees aspiring doctors can pursue. Typical majors include pre-med, health sciences, biology, or even psychology. Medical schools often require students to complete prerequisite coursework, so students should ensure they take the appropriate classes no matter the major. Medical school admissions are very competitive, so maintaining a good GPA is essential.

Step 3: Take the MCAT (Timeline Varies)

During the spring of a student’s junior year of undergraduate, they will need to take the Medical College Admission Test. This standardized exam is required by almost every medical school and demonstrates a student’s knowledge of scientific concepts as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Step 4: Apply for Medical School (Timeline Varies)

Students will apply for medical school between their junior and senior years of college. Most applications must be completed by late summer or early fall. Many medical schools use a standard application through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). This allows students to apply to multiple schools and easily submit uploaded documentation such as transcripts, test scores, and recommendations.

Step 5: Attend Medical School (Four Years)

Medical school takes four years to complete. Training and education are divided between classroom lectures, labs, and clinical rotations. Aspiring pediatricians should ensure they complete rotations in general pediatrics or pediatric specialties. Rotations in family medicine can also provide valuable experience working with children.

Step 6: Apply for a Pediatric Residency (During Medical School)

During the final year of medical school, aspiring pediatricians must visit and interview at pediatric residency programs. This allows both students and programs to determine if that particular residency would be a good fit. Students can choose a general or specialized residency depending on their interests.

Step 7: Fulfill Residency Requirements (Three to Five Years)

Pediatric residencies can take anywhere from three to five years to complete. More extended residencies are typically combined programs with internal medicine or another specialty. Residencies can take place at general or children’s hospitals, clinics, or medical offices.

Step 8: Sit for the National Licensing Exams (Timelines Vary)

In order to be licensed, doctors must pass a national licensing exam. The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is the exam for those who have completed an MD. Those who have completed a DO will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMPLEX-USA). These exams evaluate the skills and education obtained during medical school and residency.

Step 9: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Doctors must be licensed in every state in order to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, so doctors should contact their local licensing board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. Typical requirements include education, clinical rotations, a background check, and a comprehensive exam.

Step 10: Become Board Certified (Timelines Vary)

Pediatricians must obtain board certification through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). More details about this certification can be found in the certification section below.

What Do Pediatricians Do?

Pediatricians work in hospitals, medical offices, outpatient clinics, community health centers, government agencies, and schools. Job duties vary based on the palace of employment and if the pediatrician works in a specialty field. However, typical day to day responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with pediatric patients and their families
  • Performing physical examinations on babies, children, and teens
  • Ordering lab test or imagining scans to determine what is going on with a child
  • Administering vaccinations
  • Reviewing lab and imaging findings to diagnose illnesses
  • Diagnosing pediatric diseases or illnesses
  • Writing treatment plans
  • Educating families about healthy habits such as nutrition, screen time, and seat belts
  • Maintaining client records
  • Collaborating with other physicians to provide comprehensive care

Pediatrician Certifications & Licensure

Pediatricians must be licensed medical doctors. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include medical school, residency, and a national exam. Doctors should know what licensing is a multistep process that will require verification from multiple sources, so the process can take a significant amount of time. Patience and persistence are key.

Board certification for pediatricians is through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). The general pediatrics board certification exam is offered once a year in October. This exam costs $2,265 to $2,610 and consists of 330 to 350 multiple-choice questions. The requirements for certification include:

  • Graduate from a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or American Osteopathic Association (AOA) accredited medical school
  • Complete an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited three-year pediatric residency
  • Have a current, unrestricted allopathic and/or osteopathic medical license to practice medicine

How Much Do Pediatricians Make?

Pediatricians earn $184,570 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020). There are currently approximately 27,550 Pediatricians in the US. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $69,470
  • 25th percentile: $126,930
  • 50th percentile (median): $177,100
  • 75th percentile: >$208,000 per year
  • 90th percentile: >$208,000 per year

Please note that the BLS does not give specific figures for ranges in excess of $208,000.

Pediatrician Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a pediatrician.

Become an Internal Medicine Doctor

Internal medicine is also known as general medicine. Doctors in this specialty can work with a wide variety of patients, including children and teens. They use their scientific knowledge and training to identify illnesses and treat diseases.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM)

Become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners have completed advanced nursing studies and are often called physician extenders, as they can perform many of the same duties as doctors. Nurse practitioners can specialize in pediatrics and work with babies, children, and teens. They can diagnose diseases, treat illnesses, and even prescribe medications.

  • Typical Education: Master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

Become a School Counselor

School counselors work with school-age children. They can provide classroom-wide social-emotional education, work with small groups to develop peer group skills, or help students one-on-one who are struggling in the school. These counselors have completed extensive education in pediatric counseling and are adept at addressing issues that arise from school or home.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree in counseling
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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