Preparing to Be a Pediatrician

A doctor listening to a child's heart.
Spending extra time in a Pediatric Cardiology clinic can get you better at hearing hurt murmurs. Photo by Getty Images

You might not have learned everything you need to know in kindergarten and you likely will not learn everything you need to know about Pediatrics before or during your residency.

All through your training, whether it is college, medical school or during your Pediatrics residency, there will be core or required courses that you have to take. In addition, you will likely have electives or courses that you have more flexibility in choosing. Although you should primarily choose electives that interest you, there are some courses that may help you in your future career in Pediatrics.

Where do you start? Probably in college, but there aren't too many choices. Although some pre-med students take an elective in medical terminology, there will be plenty of time to learn the lingo of medicine later, so this class probably isn't too helpful. The only thing that might be helpful is a class in psychology or child psychology. And maybe golf.

PreMed Classes and Requirements

You should start out by making sure that you meet the minimum requirements for attending medical school, which usually includes the following premedical college courses (but may vary between different medical schools):

  • One to two years of Biology, including labs (8 to 14 semester hours)
  • One year of Physics, including labs (8 semester hours)
  • One year of English (6 semester hours)
  • Two years of Chemistry, including one year of Organic Chemistry, and labs (16 semester hours)
  • One year of Calculus (6 semester hours)

It might also be helpful to take classes in biochemistry, zoology, anatomy, statistics, microbiology, physiology, immunology, genetics, and cell physiology.

Keep in mind that you don't have to major in biology to become a doctor. It might make it easier to have a natural sciences major, though, since the above requirements will be part of your major. If you have a different major, like economics, then you will likely have to take these classes as electives, in addition to all of the regular classes in your major.

On the other hand, you don't want to take a lot of classes in a major that you aren't really that interested in. So balance your own interests with the pre-med course requirements for the school you are interested in attending when choosing a college major.

Medical School Electives

In medical school, there will be more opportunities. Although curriculums may vary from school to school, in addition to basic science and clinical courses, there will be opportunities to take electives during your 3rd and 4th year of medical school. Among the electives that will be helpful include:

  • Dermatology — rashes are very common in Pediatrics
  • Surgery or Surgery ER to improve your trauma and suturing skills
  • Orthopedics
  • Allergy/Immunology

Pediatric Electives for Primary Care

Between your time spent in the NICU, PICU, ER, and specialty services, like cardiology, heme-onc, renal, and GI, there isn't a lot of time left over for general pediatrics. Fortunately, more residency programs are scheduling time for general pediatric clinics, including adolescent and behavior/developmental clinics. Plus, you will probably have several electives to get further training.

More specific electives that you may be able to take in medical school or during your Pediatric residency include:

  • Pediatric Dermatology — again, rashes are very common in pediatrics, especially eczema and acne
  • Pediatric Gastroenterology — learning how to deal with acid reflux and constipation will cut back on your need to refer your patients to a gastroenterologist
  • Child Psychiatry — learning to evaluate and treat kids with depression, autism, and ADHD are great skills
  • Neurology or Newborn Neurology
  • Pediatric ENT — it takes time to learn to look in a young child's ear and the more experience you have the better
  • Pediatric Allergy/Immunology to improve your skills in treating kids with allergies and asthma
  • Pediatric Genetics

Almost any other elective will probably be helpful too, depending on your interests.

Electives in Rheumatology and Infectious Disease may be less helpful since you won't see a lot of these kinds of patients in a general pediatric practice. Sure, you will see lots of kids with infections, but not the more exotic things you will likely encounter in an Infectious Disease rotation.

Nephrology can also be a good choice, as hematuria, proteinuria, and bedwetting are all common pediatric problems.

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