Interview with a Pediatrician

Becoming a Pediatrician

Male doctor examining girl (6-7) in his office
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I often get interview questions from students about becoming a pediatrician. Typical questions include how much school do you have to go through, what influenced you to become a pediatrician, typical salaries, etc.

Interviewing a Pediatrician for a School Project

While I am going to answer many of those questions, if you are doing a school project on a career in pediatrics, I think it is best that you talk with a pediatrician in your community and do the interview in person.

Who can you interview?

How about the pediatrician who has taken care of you?

If you didn't see a pediatrician, consider asking a pediatrician in your community. Most would be happy to help an aspiring student with this sort of career project.

Among the types of questions to ask might include:

1) What kind of education do you need to become a pediatrician?

Pediatricians typically complete 11 years of training to become a pediatrician, including:

  • 4 years of college
  • 4 years of medical school
  • 1 year of an internship in pediatrics
  • 2 years of a pediatric residency

Pediatric specialists, like a pediatric cardiologist or pediatric endocrinologist, also have to complete at least 3 years of specialty fellowship training.

2) How much does all of that schooling cost?

It depends on where you go to school, with private colleges and medical schools in general being more expensive than public ones. Most medical students get financial aid, loans and grants to help pay for their education though.

In 2006, the median debt of medical students was $119,000.

3) What should I choose as a major in college?

Although most students assume that they have to major in biology or some other science major, you can choose any major you like. There are certain premed course requirements that you have to complete before applying to medical school, but they can be outside your major.

Premed requirements usually include:

  • one year of English
  • one to two years of Biology
  • one semester of college calculus or statistics
  • one year of physics
  • two years of chemistry, including one year of inorganic and one year of organic chemistry

It may seem easier to just choose a major that includes these classes, but you really should pick a major that you will enjoy and will succeed at.

4) Do I have to have a 4.0 GPA to get into medical school?

Of course not. Grades are only one thing that medical schools look at when considering applicants for medical school. They will also look at your MCAT scores, recommendations from your professors and advisors, extracurricular activities, and your personal qualities.

More than your grades, medical schools want to see that you are able to be successful at something. This might mean that you have competed in piano competitions, that you play competitive sports, or that you had a leadership role in a major organization or community service project.

If you can show that you can be successful, then you may be able to convince the medical school that you will be successful as a doctor.

5) Does it matter where I go to college?

Not as much as most students think.

Medical school application committees do look at how hard your courses in college were or the 'rigor of the undergraduate curriculum', but you are likely best off going to a college where you will be successful. Getting all A's at a smaller college that is close to home is probably better than getting all C's and D's at Harvard or Yale.

If you are interested in getting into a highly competitive or top medical school, like Harvard or Johns Hopkins, then going to an 'elite' college might be helpful.

After all of the questions about how to become a pediatrician, students often begin asking questions about what it is like being a pediatrician. Typical questions include how much do you work, what do you do, how much money can you make, etc. And of course, why did you want to become a pediatrician.

1) What influenced you to become a pediatrician?

I always wanted to be a doctor, from when I was a little kid.

It wasn't until medical school that I decided on a career in Pediatrics.

During your third year of medical school, you start working with patients more as you do different rotations, such as ob/gyn (delivering babies, etc.), surgery, psychiatry, internal medicine, family practice, and pediatrics. Although I liked all of my rotations, I found that I enjoyed Pediatrics and taking care of children the most.

2) What do pediatricians do?

I think that the American Academy of Pediatrics sums it up best in stating that 'in caring for children's physical health, pediatricians diagnose and treat infections, injuries, genetic defects, malignancies, and many types of organic disease and dysfunction. They work to reduce infant and child mortality, control infectious disease, foster healthy lifestyles, and ease the day-to-day difficulties of children and adolescents with chronic conditions.'

So basically we take care of kids, from birth to 21 years of age, when they are sick and we offer preventative care and guidance to keep them healthy.

3) What is a typical day like for a pediatrician?

It depends, but for the average primary care pediatrician with a regular office, the day usually begins by going to the hospital to 'make rounds' and seeing new babies and any sick kids that have been hospitalized. Next, office hours usually begin at 8:30 or 9:00 am and continue until 4:00 or 5:00 pm, with 1 to 1 1/2 hours for lunch.

During that time, pediatricians see kids in two basic types of appointments. There are appointments for kids who are sick, like with an ear infection or poison ivy, and well child appointments, when kids get their checkups and shots. And the average pediatrician sees about 127 patients a week, including those in the office and hospital.

4) How many hours a week does a pediatrician work?

The AAP reports that the average pediatrician works 'an average of 50 hours per week.' This includes time spent in the office, visiting patients in the hospital, doing paperwork and being on call after-hours. Most pediatricians also take either a 1/2 day or full day off during the week.

5) What does it mean to be on call?

Most pediatricians make themselves available to their patients after regular office hours, including nights and weekends. When on call, a doctor answers phone calls and sometimes has to visit the hospital to see a sick patient.

The amount of time spent on call depends on how many doctors are available to 'share' call. A doctor by himself would usually be on call everyday. Doctors in a group, like in an office with 3 other doctors would be on call much less often and perhaps just once a month.

The availability of pediatric hospitalists, pediatricians who specialize in caring for children in the hospital, can mean that you don't have to go to the hospital anymore. That can help you devote your time to just caring for kids in the office and can mean that you don't have to go to the hospital when you are on call.

6) How much money do pediatricians make?

The American Medical Association reports an average income for pediatricians at $135,400 a year, but that was from 1993. Medical Economics magazine reports a salary range for pediatricians from less than $60,000 up to $400,000 a year, with doctors that saw more patients and worked longer hours generally making more money, while those who work part time make less.

According to Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a recruitment firm, starting salaries for full-time pediatricians range from a low of $100,000 to a high of $160,000, with an average starting salary of $130,000.

There is more to knowing about a career than how much you work, what you do and how much money you make. You should also research and ask about job satisfaction and what people like and dislike about their career choice.

1) What do you like about being a pediatrician?

I actually like just about everything about being a pediatrician, and I think that most people who choose a career in pediatrics feel the same.

In fact, a survey from the American Academy of Pediatrics 'found that 81.5% of pediatricians were either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with their professional hours, income, skills, and interest level.'

2) What do you not like about being a pediatrician?

Of course I don't like it when sick kids don't get better, but fortunately that doesn't happen very often.

It can also be difficult to deal with insurance companies and HMOs.

And many pediatricians dislike that some parents don't want to vaccinate their children. Although still a minority of parents, it has lead to some pediatricians actually choosing to not take care of these children. Most other pediatricians continue to work to educate these parents that vaccines are safe and necessary to keep their kids protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

3) Do you ever get tired of your job?

There may be bad days when you get tired of what you are doing, but in general, I don't get tired of what I am doing.

People often think that pediatrics is just ear infections and crying babies, but it is actually a very challenging field. In any one day, you might see newborn babies, sick toddlers and teens with school problems.

And if you do get tired of seeing a specific problem or if you have a special interest in another problem, you can 'specialize' in that field, for example, concentrating on seeing teens with behavior and school problems, or younger children with allergies and asthma.

If you want an even bigger challenge, set up your practice in a small town, away from a big city, so that you will have to take care of the majority of problems that come up, without the benefit of sending every sick kid to a specialist.

4) What is the future for pediatrics?

In general, I think that pediatrics has a strong future. As long as people keep having babies, there will be a need for pediatricians to take care of them. And there are still shortages of pediatricians in many parts of the United States, especially in rural areas.

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