A neonatal doctor -- more commonly known as a neonatologist -- is a pediatrician who has taken additional training. Neonatologists care for newborn infants, especially those who are born prematurely or who develop complications after birth. To become a neonatologist, you must first become a doctor, then become a pediatrician and then take additional training in neonatology. Neonatologists are usually certified in their specialty.
Start With the Basics
All physicians start their education with a bachelor’s degree followed by medical school. You must complete the MCAT medical college admissions test before you can apply to a medical school. Physicians have two choices: to become a doctor of medicine, or MD, or to become a doctor of osteopathy, or DO. In both cases, you will study similar subjects, such as anatomy, biology and pharmacology. DOs also study the musculoskeletal system more extensively and learn about manipulation, especially of the spine. In either case, medical school is where you obtain the basic training that prepares you to practice medicine. Once you graduate, you will take a licensing exam. Physicians must be licensed to practice in all states.
Becoming a Pediatrician
Your specialty training begins after medical school. You must complete a residency in pediatrics -- usually three years long -- before you can enter neonatology training. During your residency, you will learn how to care for children of all ages, including newborns. Your instructors will be experts in specialized areas of pediatrics, such as pediatric critical care, pediatric development and behavior, pediatric emergency care, and related disciplines such as diagnostic radiology and surgery. You will learn how to perform physical examinations and procedures, interview patients and families, and develop health care management plans. You will also take a national examination to become board-certified in general pediatrics.
Although you could begin to practice as a pediatrician once you finish your residency, to become a neonatologist, you need an additional three years of training. This type of program is usually known as a fellowship; in many ways, it is similar to a residency program. The difference is in the specialized nature of the training -- neonatologists care for critically ill infants with specialized needs. In a pediatric residency, for example, you learn to perform certain procedures on healthy infants, while in a fellowship, you apply similar principles to caring for very tiny, very sick babies. You also learn to deal with problems that healthy infants don’t usually experience, such as immature lungs, severe infections or birth defects.
Once you finish your fellowship, take the board certification examination for neonatology. Like the general pediatric certification, this is a national-level exam specific to the practice of neonatology. Although it is not required for practice, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that it may improve employment opportunities. The Council of Pediatric Subspecialties notes that demand for neonatologists remains strong across various work settings. Becker’s Hospital Review reports the median annual salary for neonatologists was $248,682 as of December 2014.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: What Is a Neonatologist?
- Neonatology on the Web: A Career in Neonatology
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education: ACGME Program Requirements for Graduate Medical Education in Pediatrics
- Council of Pediatric Subspecialties: Pediatric Neonatology
- Becker’s Hospital Review: Physician Specialties - Whose Compensation Has Grown the Most?
- Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images
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