If you’re asking “What degree do you need to be a pediatrician?”, you’re probably interested in working both in the field of medical practice and with children. Pediatricians are physicians who specialize in the care of children. They perform regular checkups and treat patients from birth through adolescence.
A career practicing pediatric medicine is rewarding but also challenging. If you want to become a pediatrician, you’re going to need the proper schooling. Preparing for a pediatrician career includes both earning a bachelor’s degree and going to med school.
Education and Career Planning for Pediatrician Majors
Becoming a pediatrician is a long process. In fact, it can take over a decade to complete the education, including a medical degree and clinical training, needed to become a pediatrician.
Unlike many other careers, there is a specific route that aspiring pediatricians need to follow. In large part, this is due to the need to become licensed to practice medicine. While there can be some variations, pediatricians have to go through each of these general steps in order to get to their goal of becoming a pediatrician.
To start, an aspiring pediatrician must earn a bachelor’s degree, also known as a four-year degree. Besides meeting the graduation requirements for their bachelor’s degree program, aspiring pediatricians must take the courses required for medical school. Typically, medical school prerequisites encompass studies in subjects like the following:
- Organic chemistry
After graduating, students will need to apply to medical school. This graduate program usually takes four years to complete. The first two years of a medical degree consist of classroom and laboratory studies in science and medical ethics. The program culminates in two years of clinical rotations. In most med school programs, students complete clinical rotations in areas like internal medicine, emergency medicine, family medicine and, of course, pediatrics.
Upon completing their clinical rotations and graduating from medical school, new doctors who want to practice pediatric medicine will complete additional training in this specialty. New pediatricians gain this experience through an internship and residency program at a teaching hospital or large clinic. During this time, new pediatricians work with patients directly in clinical practice, under the guidance of an attending physician.
The postgraduate training required for becoming a pediatrician takes three years. New doctors pursuing more specialized branches of medicine will spend another two years to four years completing a fellowship. A fellowship might be part of your pediatrician training if you want to work in pediatric specialties like the following:
- Pediatric surgery
- Pediatric cardiology
- Pediatric endocrinology
- Pediatric emergency medicine
- Adolescent medicine
- Child and adolescent psychiatry
- Developmental-behavioral pediatrics
Like other types of physicians, pediatricians must attain a license to practice medicine. Getting your medical license requires passing an exam. Licensed physicians must pass one of two different medical licensing exam tests. Which medical licensing exam you will take depends on the type of medical education you received.
With an allopathic medical education – an MD degree – you would take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) test. If you got your medical education in osteopathic medicine, the medical licensing exam you would take is the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
Aside from earning a medical license, you can pursue board certification in this specialty. Pediatricians can become Board Certified through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). Board certification from the American Board of Pediatrics is voluntary – but valuable.
The Degrees Needed to Be a Pediatrician
Pediatricians need a minimum of two degrees. First, students need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Then they must earn a medical degree at the doctoral level.
The Bachelor’s Degree Needed to Become a Pediatrician
The bachelor’s degree is the degree a prospective pediatrician must attain before going to medical school. This undergraduate-level degree can typically be completed within four years of full-time study. You can consider earning a bachelor’s degree to be the first step toward becoming a pediatrician.
When prospective students ask, “What do pediatricians major in?“, they’re often referring to the program of study in which students earn a bachelor’s degree. This program of study is called an undergraduate major.
Technically, the answer to the question “What major do you need to be a pediatrician?” is any major. A bachelor’s degree can be earned in any subject of study to prepare to become a pediatrician. More important than the precise major you choose is whether you take the courses needed to meet medical school prerequisites. In that sense, a good pediatrician major is any major that encompasses sufficient science and math coursework to prepare you to attend medical school.
Most medical schools consider the strength of your overall combination of several factors in applicants, including:
- Academic performance
- Letters of recommendation
- Scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Extracurricular involvement
- Experience working in or observing the health care field
Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science Programs
Both MD and DO programs are heavily science-based. For this reason, you might expect that having a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree would be preferable to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.
However, liberal arts-based BA programs of study can also prepare you for medical school. The only caveat is that you must take enough science courses, such as biology, to meet the prerequisites for medical schools.
Other Degrees Awarded by Medical Schools
Some physicians also earn additional degrees. For example, medical schools may offer programs that award master’s degrees in public health or business administration.
A master’s degree isn’t required to work as a pediatrician. However, having this additional qualification may help you find work in leadership, research, advocacy or policy roles, whether you’re interested in general pediatrics or pediatric specialties.
Earning a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) Degree
Once you earn a bachelor’s degree, the next step toward becoming a pediatrician is earning a medical degree at the doctoral level. The doctoral degree must be granted by an accredited medical school. Only a medical degree – as opposed to other health-related degrees that may be awarded by the medical school – will prepare students to become a pediatrician.
When prospective med school students as “What major is pediatrician?“, they’re sometimes questioning if a special type of medical degree is required for this specialty. Generally, students aiming to become a pediatrician complete the same curricula as other physicians. They may, however, pursue additional clinical rotations in general pediatrics, adolescent medicine or related specialties.
Generally, aspiring pediatricians can choose to seek one of two different types of medical degree. Students who want to become a pediatrician can choose either an allopathic Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or an osteopathic Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
Both allopathic medicine and osteopathic medicine programs can prepare students to become a pediatrician. The MD and DO degrees are equally acceptable courses of career preparation for pediatricians, but they approach the practice of medicine from different perspectives. They may also encompass somewhat different coursework.
The MD degree, awarded by an allopathic medicine degree program, is the traditional program for the pediatrician career. A medical degree in osteopathic medicine employs a more holistic, “whole-person” approach to acquiring medical knowledge.
Either an MD or a DO program typically takes four years to complete.
Choosing a College for Aspiring Pediatricians
Prospective students sometimes ask questions like, “What college should I go to if I want to be a pediatrician?” You aren’t limited to a specific college or set of colleges, at either the undergraduate or doctoral level.
Medical schools have a reputation for being selective in the candidates they admit. However, most medical schools care more about the individual student’s academic performance, along with the content of their letters of recommendation and their involvement in research or service, than about the specific institution that awarded the degree. That said, if you want to attend medical school, you should make sure that you earn your undergraduate degree from a school that is regionally accredited by one of the accrediting bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
What to Major in to Be a Pediatrician
Aspiring doctors in this specialty often wonder what to major in to become a pediatrician.
There’s no one pediatrician college major. This is, in part, because aspiring physicians don’t definitively choose their medical specialty until later in their career preparation path.
Still, it’s generally recommended that students choose a bachelor’s degree that they expect to help them in their future studies in some way. What this means is open to interpretation – which means the best majors for pediatricians are more numerous and varied than you might have expected.
Some prospective pediatricians may think of pediatrician majors as bachelor’s degree programs that will allow them to meet medical school prerequisites without taking extra science courses. To others, the best majors for pediatricians are programs that help them develop the soft skills needed to be a good doctor, including communication and interpersonal skills.
While you’re asking “What is the best major for a pediatrician?”, you could also ask what major is best for medical school or a physician career in general. Prospective pediatricians often choose some of the same college majors that other medical school applicants choose.
Choosing the right major for medical school is such a common challenge that the American Medical Association has released data pertaining to the college majors of med school applicants and matriculated students. According to the American Medical Association, the most common college majors for matriculated medical school students are:
- Physical science
- The social sciences
- The humanities
- Specialized health science
Your interest in providing patient care for children and young adults may set you apart in some respects, including your choice of college major. Psychology may be a particularly popular major for pediatrician careers. Degrees in child psychology and child development, in particular, may be of interest when you want to be a pediatrician.
Liberal arts degrees like English are less popular among medical school students than they used to be. Still, if you’re asking “What should I major in to become a pediatrician?”, you shouldn’t dismiss this option without further consideration. Liberal arts curricula prioritize learning how to learn, communicate and think critically. Each of these skills can also be valuable for making it through the challenges of medical school.
Whatever major you choose, you will need to take coursework that fulfills your medical school prerequisites. Prerequisites are specific requirements of courses applicants must have previously taken to be admitted to the program. At most medical schools, the majority of prerequisites are based in branches of science like biology and chemistry.
It’s a good idea to look into pre-medical tracks when you’re planning on becoming a pediatrician. Generally, pre-medical studies is not a separate major. Instead, at most colleges, pre-med is an academic track that you can pursue with any major. A pre-med track typically consists of the classes that most commonly make up medical school prerequisites.
Biological Science Majors
Biological science, the scientific study of living things, is a perennially popular major among medical school students. Aspiring pediatricians are no exception.
After all, the bodies of infants, children and adolescents (like those of all humans) are biological organisms. The human body is filled with complex systems. Some health ailments are caused by living organisms. The organisms that can cause such as bacteria, parasites and fungi.
Biology plays a role in health care and specifically in managing patients’ health conditions and symptoms. Knowledge of biology is involved in the development of medical procedures, drugs and other treatments.
Biological science may not pertain directly to the specific needs and challenges that accompany practicing pediatric medicine – at least, not more so for pediatricians than for other physicians. Still, biological science is a good choice of majors for preparing to practice medicine in general. Having a background in biological science can also help you prepare for the demands of the Medical College Admission Test.
Biology students take laboratory courses in many different areas of biology. These areas typically include:
- Molecular biology
- Organismal biology
- Cell biology
- Evolutionary biology
As you might expect, majoring in biology is a good way to cross off the prerequisites for medical school. and make sure that you have a strong foundation in biological sciences to build upon with the basic science curriculum. This knowledge can help you understand the biological foundations – and in turn, the physical foundations – on which medical practice is based.
Biology may be the most popular major for getting into medical school. Still, choosing this major purely because it’s what you think you should study to be a pediatrician may not give you the competitive edge you expect. The American Medical Association reported that the 40 percent matriculation rate for biology majors was actually lower than the matriculation rate of “several” other majors. Further, the American Medical Association noted, students of biology didn’t perform better on the MCAT, on average, than their peers from other academic backgrounds.
If you have a passion for biology, and you plan to make an effort to be involved in undergraduate research experiences, biology is a good major to prepare you for medical school. If not, though, you might be better off pursuing a major that you like – and will shine in – than performing less enthusiastically in a program of study that matches everyone else’s.
Studies in Chemistry and Physics
Outside of biological sciences, majors that fall under the umbrella of physical sciences are the most popular. Specifically, students eyeing a medical school education often choose to major in chemistry or physics.
These science-based programs of study lend themselves to the science courses that make up medical school prerequisites. They also are integral to the development of new and existing medical treatments. Like majoring in biology, majoring in chemistry or physics helps equip you with the scientific knowledge needed for the Medical College Admission Test.
Both chemistry and physics pertain to the study of matter, which makes up the universe. The field of chemistry focuses on the properties and behavior of matter. In chemistry, you will study how different substances react to each other and to the forces exerted on them. Physics, instead, deals with energy, force and the motions and behaviors of matter through space and time.
Bachelor’s degree programs in chemistry typically cover subjects like the following:
- General chemistry
- Organic chemistry
- Physical chemistry
- Analytical chemistry
- Systematic inorganic chemistry
- Instrumental methods of chemical analysis
- Laboratory safety in the chemical sciences
The curriculum of undergraduate programs in physics includes studies in the following areas:
- Foundations of modern physics
- Mechanics and waves
- Electricity and magnetism
- Quantum physics
- Vibrations and optics
Physics is a particularly math-heavy branch of science. An undergraduate degree in physics may include coursework in mathematical methods for scientists, statistical mechanics and multivariate calculus.
Psychology and Other Social Science Majors
One major that may appeal particularly to prospective pediatricians is psychology. Psychology, which is the scientific study of the mind and behavior, routinely includes coursework in development across the lifespan, including during childhood and adolescence.
Students may think that aspiring psychiatrists are the ones who would most benefit from majoring in psychology as undergraduates, due to their focus on treating mental illnesses, but other types of doctors also benefit from what drives people’s (and patients’) thoughts and emotions. Doctors who understand psychology, psychological needs, and common psychological conditions like depression and anxiety are in a better position to provide caring and compassionate care to patients, no matter what specialty of medicine they practice. Empathy and compassion are particularly important traits for pediatricians, who need to reassure both anxious children, some of whom may be too young to communicate their concerns, and parents who may be equally anxious.
If psychology doesn’t seem like quite the right fit for you, consider majoring in another one of the social sciences, such as sociology or anthropology, both of which can help you develop a deeper understanding of people.
Studies in the Humanities and Liberal Arts
Less science-focused than social sciences are the humanities and the liberal arts. The coursework required for a liberal arts degree alone won’t prepare you to get into medical school. However, these broader areas of study that emphasize the development of skills in thinking, learning and communication also tend to give students plenty of electives that they can use to follow a pre-medical track. Majoring in English, the humanities or other liberal arts requires a great deal of reading and writing, which makes them useful when you’re gearing up for the academic challenges of medical school. In a liberal arts major, the focus is less on memorizing facts and more on learning how to think critically, express ideas and take in new information.
Specialized Health Science Majors
Another option that is starting to become more popular is to pick a degree in a field that makes the student immediately employable in the health care industry. For example, you might choose to major in medical administration, nursing or health sciences more generally. Not only does this path give you a unique insight into what it’s really like to work in the medical field, but if you decide to spend some time working before applying to medical school, it can also provide you with valuable experience that distinguishes you from other applicants.
Majoring in health administration will likely mean taking classes in diseases of the human body, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, healthcare delivery systems, epidemiology and health services research, health policy and medical law and medical ethics. All of these courses can be valuable for future pediatricians. Other coursework in this major includes business studies and specialized classes pertaining to administration in the healthcare field, such as strategic health planning, healthcare financial management and medical group practice management.
A Bachelor of Nursing Science (BSN) degree program encompasses coursework in anatomy and physiology, human biology, professional nursing and healthcare, health concepts across the lifespan and science and technology in nursing practice. Nurses gain real-world work experience through clinical practicum courses.
General degree programs in the health sciences combine studies in basic science like biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology with coursework in medical terminology, developmental and abnormal psychology and applied statistics for health sciences. Elective coursework within the major can help students tailor their undergraduate studies toward areas like health services management, biomedical research, public health and global health. For aspiring pediatricians, taking classes in children’s health, women’s health, nutrition and fitness and wellness may be particularly helpful.
Although these are the most popular majors for getting into medical school, the second-largest group of matriculated medical school students is the one that encompasses all other majors. If you choose not to major in one of these common medical school majors – such as biomedical engineering, for example – you will still be in good company.