Mother with new born baby

How to become a paediatrician

Everything you need to know about becoming a paediatrician
The Children's Hospital Westmead Clinical School takes over 500 medical students each year, many of whom go on to become paediatricians. Our experts share their advice on how to get there.

What is a paediatrician?

Simply put, a paediatrician (spelt pediatrician in North America) is a medical doctor who treats infants, children and young people.

Although there have been writings about health and illness in children since Ancient Greece the medical specialty of Paediatrics did not develop until the middle of the nineteenth century. 

In Australia, paediatricians are specialist physicians trained in a parallel system to their colleagues who treat adults.

Children and young people need a referral from a general practitioner (GP) to see the paediatrician. (In some other countries in the world, patients can see a paediatrician without a referral).

General paediatricians in Australia see a broad range of presentations.

Paediatricians can also subspecialise and see children and young people with specific health problems in the same areas as physicians who treat adults (such as paediatric neurology, paediatric cardiology and paediatric gastroenterology), as well as in areas that are strictly paediatric such as neonatology (perinatology), developmental and behavioural paediatrics and adolescent medicine. 

Paediatricians can play a role in preventative medicine, population health, health management and many other areas. They are researchers and teachers.

Paediatricians work in clinical medicine, education, research, population health and many other fields. It is possible in Australia for paediatricians to subspecialise in the following areas:

  • addiction medicine
  • adolescent and young adult medicine
  • cardiology
  • community child health
  • dermatology
  • endocrinology
  • gastroenterology
  • general paediatrics
  • genetics
  • haematology
  • immunology and allergies
  • infectious diseases
  • medical oncology
  • neonatal and perinatal medicine
  • nephrology
  • neurology
  • paediatric emergency medicine
  • palliative edicine
  • rehabilitation medicine (paediatric)
  • respiratory medicine and sleep medicine
  • rheumatology

How will I know if paediatrics is right for me?

Paediatricians in Australia have to first complete a medical degree, then choose to specialist in paediatrics.

Paediatricians are doctors who enjoy working with children and families and are committed to lifelong learning.

There are many places where you can complete a medical degree. The University of Sydney offers a postgraduate Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree to suitable candidates.

As a MD student at the University of Sydney, you can take advantage of opportunities during the course to familiarise yourself with the scope and detail of the work of paediatricians.

In addition to team-based learning cases, self-directed learning project and patient-doctor tutorials, you will complete a seven-week child and adolescent health specialty block.

What can I do to help me become a paediatrician?

While you are a medical student you can gain experience and exposure to paediatrics by undertaking the following activities in paediatrics or related areas:

  • Summer scholarships
  • MD research project
  • elective term
  • pre-internship term
  • attachments and placements that allow more exposure to children (eg clinical placements in psychological and addiction medicine)

Outside your studies you can gain further experience and exposure to paediatrics by undertaking:

  • relevant volunteer and part-time work
  • relevant research work

If you are in contact with paediatricians, consider talking with them about your progress and career.

Even if you spend only a week with someone as a supervisor, it may be appropriate to remain in touch with them to, for example, be aware of research opportunities, discuss career options or learn about how best to secure a training position.

You may have undertaken previous study or have a prior career relevant to paediatrics, such as allied health or psychology.

This experience may provide a springboard for your learning and additional opportunities.

When you are compiling your CV you can tailor it to the position for which you are applying.

If you are applying for a paediatric training position, be sure to highlight those occasions during your medical course where you arranged additional paediatric training or clinical experience.

If you are a doctor you can gain training and knowledge in paediatrics while you complete a Master of Medicine (Child and Adolescent Health) course which is open to doctors in Australia and internationally.

In some countries, a Master of Medicine is the only requirement for becoming a paediatrician. 

What does paediatric training involve?

Training programs to become a paediatrician vary from country to country and slightly between states of Australia.

In Australia, in order to become a paediatrician, you must first complete a medical degree.

After completing the medical degree junior doctors first complete general prevocational training of one or two years before becoming a Basic Trainee of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

Following this, a minimum of six years in accredited training positions is required to complete training with the RACP.

Assessments occur throughout training with major written and clinical examinations held in the third year of Basic Training at the earliest. 

In North America, junior doctors generally enter straight into specialist training residency programs.

Further information:

28 November 2018

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