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Home > Articles > How to Become a General Pediatrician: Career Outlook and Job Training

How to Become a General Pediatrician: Career Outlook and Job Training

By Jessica Hanley
Published on December 7, 2009.


Job Duties

General pediatricians specialize in children's health and treat a variety of childhood ailments. From check-ups to sudden illnesses, pediatricians track a child's growth and provide treatment for common conditions. A pediatrician's patients range in age from newborns to young adults, and it's not uncommon for a child to go to one pediatrician throughout the years. Because pediatricians primarily treat minor illnesses and conditions, they work closely with other healthcare workers, including surgeons, specialists, and nurses, to treat seriously ill children. Some pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious chronic conditions, but most monitor a child's general health and refer serious cases to a specialist.

General pediatricians fall into two categories: Doctors of Medicine (MDs) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (ODs). Both MDs and ODs use medication, surgery, and other treatment options to help patients, but ODs focus more heavily on preventive care, holistic medicine, and the body's musculoskeletal system. More than half of ODs practice general family, internal, or pediatric medicine, and they are more likely than MDs to become primary care providers. Read More>>

Job Skills

General pediatricians must be compassionate, devoted, and decision-oriented. Working with children requires a gentle bedside manner and patient demeanor, but pediatricians must also be able to take immediate action in the case of an emergency. Working with young patients can be emotionally draining, so mental stability and stamina are crucial. These attributes also allow future doctors to stay motivated throughout the arduous medical education process.


In 2008, general pediatricians earned a median annual wage of $146,040. While earnings vary based on location, experience, hours, and reputation, pediatricians running their own practices generally earn the most. This option can be lucrative and allow schedule flexibility, but self-employed pediatricians must also provide their own health insurance and retirement funds.

Training and Education

The education and career training required to become a general pediatrician are time and labor intensive. After 4 years of undergraduate school, aspiring pediatricians must attend 4 years of medical school and fulfill 3 to 8 years of residency. A few medical schools offer 6-year programs that combine undergraduate training with medical school, but these programs are rare and highly competitive. Students going the traditional route must take courses in the natural sciences, mathematics, and English throughout their undergraduate career in order to apply to medical school. Since admission is extremely competitive, undergraduates with clinical experience and a high score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) have an advantage. After being admitted, medical students spend the first 2 years in the classroom, learning the basics of everything from microbiology to anatomy. The last 2 years consist of rotations in hospitals and clinics, where students gain experience under the supervision of physicians.

Residency begins after graduation from medical school and involves several years of paid, on-the-job training. The majority of residencies are in hospitals and take 2 to 6 years to complete, depending on specialty. Physicians must be licensed by their state in order to practice. State licensing requires candidates to graduate from an accredited medical school, complete 1 to 7 years of graduate medical education (residency), and pass a state licensing exam. In order to be board certified in one of 24 specialties, candidates must complete up to 8 years of residency before taking the board exam. While residencies are paid, the years of schooling beforehand can get expensive, so over 80% of medical students take out loans to cover the costs.


In 2008, there were approximately 29,000 general pediatricians working in the United States. The vast majority of these worked in private physician's offices, while the remaining 7,000 worked in hospitals, outpatient care centers, or colleges and universities.

Job Outlook

Employment of physicians as a whole is expected to increase by 14% from 2006-2016, slightly faster than the national average. Driven by population growth and advances in healthcare technology, this expansion means a strong job market for tomorrow's pediatricians.


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