Pediatrician Overview

A pediatrician is a physician who provides medical care to children from birth to early adulthood (usually until about the age of 21). Pediatricians diagnose and treat medical conditions and also provide preventative care (e.g., immunizations, wellness exams). They focus on improving overall health, reducing childhood mortality, controlling the spread of infectious diseases, and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Primary care pediatricians often work with other health care providers to manage their patients' care. They help to prevent, detect, and manage the following:

  • Behavioral problems (e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], attention-deficit disorder [ADD])
  • Developmental problems (e.g., learning disabilities)
  • Emotional problems (e.g., stress, social issues)
  • Physical conditions (e.g., acute and chronic illnesses, genetic disorders, injuries)
  • Mental disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression)

Pediatricians provide routine care (e.g., immunizations), perform physical examinations, track their patient's growth and development, obtain patient and family medical histories, explain medical procedures, order diagnostic tests, and administer treatments. They provide parents and caregivers with important information and recommendations about health and safety during childhood. Pediatricians often work in private or group practices, in clinics or hospitals (including teaching hospitals), or in health care organizations.

Pediatrician Education and Certification

To become a pediatrician, students first must obtain an undergraduate (e.g., Bachelor of Science) or advanced degree, and then must complete 4 years of medical school. Premedical undergraduate study includes courses in biology, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry (organic and inorganic), social sciences, and the humanities. Prior to acceptance into an approved medical school, students also must pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

During the first 2 years of medical school, students take courses in anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, immunology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. During the second 2 years, medical students learn how to complete a medical history, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. Courses focus on clinical sciences, such as medicine, surgery, neurology, and pediatrics.

Following graduation from medical school, physicians receive extensive training in a 1-year pediatric internship. Following completion of this internship, physicians must pass additional exams that are administered by the National Medical Board.

Physicians then attend a 3- to 4-year accredited pediatric residency program. During this program, they receive intensive, supervised training in the comprehensive medical care of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

After successful completion of a pediatric residency program, pediatricians may achieve board certification by passing a written examination administered by The American Board of Pediatrics. Board-certified pediatricians require re-certification every 7 years.

Some pediatricians choose to undergo additional education and training (called a fellowship) to subspecialize. Pediatric subspecialties include the following:

  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Allergy/Immunology
  • Cardiology
  • Child Abuse
  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Developmental/Behavioral Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Genetics
  • Hematology/Oncology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Neonatal/Perinatal Medicine
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology
  • Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology
  • Urology

Pediatricians who complete additional training also can earn certificates in the following areas:

  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Neurodevelopmental Disabilities
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports Medicine
  • Transplant Hepatology

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 01 Dec 2011