If you love children and medicine is your calling, becoming a pediatrician is an excellent way to make a difference. If you’re new to the field and not sure where to settle, or a seasoned physician looking for retirement transition, a locum tenens position may be the option you’ve been seeking.
Since they often care for the same child from infancy through young adulthood, pediatricians provide some of the strongest influences a child will encounter – and are uniquely qualified to advocate for those entrusted to their care.
There are many settings in which a pediatrician can practice. Most function within private office-based practices, but other options include practice that is hospital-based; academic and/or research-oriented; and that which occurs in ambulatory clinics and community health centers. With training to work with children of all ages, and all disease states, pediatricians are some of the most well-rounded physicians in the field. Many take advantage of the wide variety of options available throughout their careers.
M. Jane Goleman, MD, DMin is a great example of this. A pediatrician since 1986, Dr. Goleman has worked in a variety of settings and roles – including an office-based practice, a hospital-based clinic, and in medical missions overseas. Currently, she is a member of the Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. There, she is the Associate Director of the Clinical Assessment and Problem Solving (CAPS) course for first- and second-year medical students. She is also involved in training physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in communicating and caring for a diverse patient population, as well as being the author of Progress Notes: A Bible Study Guide for Medical Students and Residents. In these many roles, she has been able to use her expertise to advocate for the children she is so passionate about, provide holistic care to the families she serves, and teach and mentor the medical students who are the next generation of pediatricians preparing to serve tomorrow’s children.
When asked why she decided to become a pediatrician, Dr. Goleman cited the focus of her passion – the children. “One of the many advantages of working in pediatrics is getting to work with the children. No matter what else changes, they are the constant and consistent joy of this profession.” It’s a sentiment shared by many others. According to a physician survey, general pediatricians are some of the most satisfied medical specialists, which is something found among pediatric subspecialists as well: “I just love the kids. They are so resilient and have a great attitude about getting better,” said one pediatric cardiologist in the survey. And according to the 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Third-Year Graduating Resident Survey, 95% of graduating pediatric residents said that they would choose pediatrics again.
It would be impossible to summarize the specific duties of a pediatrician, as they vary between practice settings and patient populations. But this explanation of the complexity of the well-child assessment by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides an excellent overview of the essential principles that guide the array of specific duties that a pediatrician may perform:
Of course, the first and greatest essential is a love for children. Pediatricians are passionate about caring for children, and advocating for their needs. The many other qualities required include compassion, patience, tolerance, a love of science and medicine, the ability to multi-task and tolerate long hours, be disciplined, committed, and great communicators – because the children and their parents are counting on it.
As with any career, there are pros and cons, and this one is no different. Every setting will vary, but this general list describes just a few.
Pediatricians have extensive educational requirements. The American Medical Association outlines the process to become a physician: A 4-year science-based BS or BA degree, four years of undergraduate medical education at an accredited U.S. medical school, then a residency program that can last from 3-5 years, depending upon specialty. A 3-year residency is a foundational requirement for pediatricians, after which time they are “board eligible” to sit for the examination for certification in pediatrics. In order to specialize further, an additional 1-3 years of fellowship training is required (most require three years), after which they then must pass the subspecialty board examination.
According to 2012 salary figures from The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), general pediatricians earn an average hourly wage of $80.59, which equates to a mean annual salary of $167,640. Those working in outpatient care centers make the most, up to $190,930 annually, and those working in colleges, universities and professional schools the least – as little as $105,210. Geography makes a difference, too. The five highest paying states are Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma, but specific metropolitan areas in some of the lowest paying states still top the overall charts – like Toledo, OH, which has the second highest annual mean wage in the nation at $246,610.
Similar medical careers can only be defined within the physician ranks in order to provide a realistic comparison. The extent of education required and level of expertise would be most similar to the physician who specializes in Family Practice (cares for adults and children both), or one who specializes in Internal Medicine (cares for adults only). Similar medical careers within the field of pediatrics would be one of the nineteen pediatric subspecialists, who care for children of specific ages or with specific conditions, but require additional training.
Locum Tenens positions are another great way to practice pediatric medicine, with more freedom and less responsibility than you would have when holding a position with a permanent employer or managing your own practice.
Ethan Ruben, MD, FAA says this alternative manner of working has been a great benefit for him and his family. He had closed an urban practice and moved to rural Alabama, but wasn’t ready to invest the time needed to build a new practice. “I was freed of the expense and responsibility of managing a private office while receiving an adequate income without having to see a very large number of children each day.”
The terms of Locum Tenens contracts vary according to position, setting, and location, and offer an excellent option for flexibility and variety for those who need it.
To find out more about becoming a pediatrician, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a great resource. It provides several specific support options for those on the journey toward a career in Pediatrics: Pediatric Interest Groups (PIGs) are organizations that medical students can join to learn more about the field of Pediatrics; the Section on Medical Student, Residents and Fellowship Trainees (SOMSRFT) is an excellent resource during the graduate medical education years; and the Section on Young Physicians (SOYP) offers guidance for new physicians who are transitioning from residency and fellowship, or are within their first five years of practice.
If you have a heart for children, a passion for medicine, and a spirit of advocacy, becoming a pediatrician is an excellent career in which you can do all three. And if you’re looking for a little flexibility along the way, a pediatric locum tenens position may be just the option that you need.
By Sue Montgomery, RN, BSN
Sue Montgomery, RN, BSN is a freelance healthcare writer and professional copywriter. In her 30 years as a registered nurse, Sue has held roles from staff nurse to administrator in critical care, hospice and the health insurance industry. Learn more about Sue on Google+