Becoming a Pediatrician

Is a Career in Pediatrics Right For You?

pediatrician giving high five to little girl
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Do you want to become a pediatrician? Choosing to go into medicine is a major life decision, and choosing your specialty will also shape the rest of your career. If your passion is towards helping sick children and giving well children the best preventative care, being a pediatrician may be the right choice. Let's look at the pros, cons and considerations of a career in pediatric medicine.

Why You May Want to Avoid a Medical Career

There are a lot of reasons why someone might choose against a career in pediatrics or medicine in general.

  • The long years of being in school, including four years of college, four years of medical school and at least three years of an internship and residency. If you start right after high school, you will be in your late 20's before you begin your actual career in the location you choose.
  • The debt that many medical students build up to get through school. Depending on whether you go to a public or private medical school, you might pay tuition and fees from $34,000 to $54,000 per year, and you will likely end up with at least $135,000 in debt.
  • Reports of the crisis and rising cost of malpractice insurance. The good news is that pediatricians are in the low-risk category and traditionally have some of the lowest malpractice insurance costs, but they can still be over $10,000 per year, and more in some states. Compare that with high-risk specialties, like neurosurgery and obstetrics paying over $100,000 a year.
  • The hassles of dealing with managed care and health insurance companies. You aren't free to practice medicine the way you may want to do; you have to play by their rules. You can't ignore the business side of your practice.
  • The difficulty of completing an internship and residency, where you might work more than 80 or 120 hours a week and 36 hour shifts. The good news that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has limited residents to working no more than 80 hours a week and placed other limits on the number of consecutive hours a resident can work.

    Counters to the Cons of Becoming a Pediatrician

    Discouraged yet? Well you shouldn't be. There are many more reasons why a career in medicine, and especially pediatrics, would be a great idea.

    • School Isn't So Bad: It is true that there are many years of school, but is that really so bad? After college, if you compare someone who goes straight to work with someone that goes to medical school, which one is going to get extended time off for Spring Break, during the summer, and for major holidays? Reviewing this curriculum outline from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, you can see winter and spring breaks and 11 weeks off during your first summer.
    • Salary: And you might build up some impressive debt in medical school from student loans, but you will have plenty of time to pay it off, and you will likely make a more than comfortable living. The average starting salary for primary care physicians is about $130,000-160,000, and up to $164-214,000 after three years. Pediatrics is overall the lowest-paying medical specialty.
    • Worried about long hours during your internship and residency? While you may have some long days and weeks, in reality, if you do have to work that long, it will only be for a few months out of the year, when you are in a difficult month, such as the intensive care unit. There will also be many more months, especially on electives, when you work just 40 hours a week.

    Benefits of Becoming a Pediatrician

    What are the other benefits of becoming a pediatrician?

    • Be Your Own Boss - Or Not: While you may have to deal with managed care and insurance companies, you also have a lot of flexibility and independence in how and where you practice. You can start your own office and be your own boss, join a group of doctors and share some responsibility, but in general, still be your own boss, or work for somewhere else and totally leave the trouble of running a business to them.
    • Part-Time Possibilities: Want to work part-time? Not a problem. About 15 percent of pediatricians work part-time, leaving you more time to stay home with your family or pursue other interests.
    • The Work: As you have to do when choosing any career, you have to decide if you would enjoy the day to day duties of being a pediatrician. This includes working in the hospital, taking care of sick children in the office, and counseling parents about raising happy and healthy children.
    • Solving Challenging Cases: And pediatrics isn't all runny noses and ear infections. As a pediatrician, you can be as challenged as you want to be, taking care of kids with complex medical problems like diabetes, depression and asthma, instead of simply referring them to a specialist.

    Being a Pediatrician Isn't For You If:

    • Don't like babies or toddlers? Then pediatrics probably isn't for you, although you could work more with older children and teens.
    • Don't like learning? Then pediatrics and medicine isn't for you. Although you learn a lot in medical school and during your residency, one of the greatest challenges of being a doctor is that you have to continue learning new things as you practice.

    How to Help Make Your Decision

    How do you know if you would like being a pediatrician? The easiest way to know would be to spend some time with a pediatrician. Spend a few days in a pediatric office following a pediatrician around and making rounds in the hospital.

    Although you will likely come across some doctors who will try to discourage your from choosing a career in medicine, you would likely be getting advice from someone who chose the wrong career themselves. Personally, I love being a pediatrician, and it almost doesn't seem like 'work' when I go to the office each day. Okay, four days a week. I'm off on Wednesdays.

    Sources:

    Tuition and Student Fees Reports, Association of American Medical Colleges, accessed 4/10/16

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