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Neonatal doctors are licensed physicians who specialize in caring for newborns, especially those with unique needs due to premature birth or illness. Extensive education and training are required to become a neonatal doctor and master the skills needed to diagnose and treat sick infants. A person who wants to become a neonatal doctor generally needs to complete a bachelor's degree program, four years of medical school, at least five years of practical training in hospital residencies and a specialty fellowship. With the right training and credentials, a new doctor can choose to open a private practice or work in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a hospital.
The first step a person needs to take to become a neonatal doctor is enrolling in an accredited four-year university. Most future doctors choose to major in biology or another subject related to human health, with a focus on premedical courses. Through classroom work and independent studies, students can develop a basic understanding of anatomy, physiology, and genetics as they apply to neonates. Most students prepare to take medical school entrance exams sometime in their last two years of their bachelor's degree programs.
Medical schools are usually very competitive, and it takes strong grades, test scores, essays, and reference letters to gain acceptance. Once a person is admitted, he or she can expect to spend about two years in lectures and laboratory classes to develop an expert understanding of medicine. The final two years are primarily spent shadowing actual doctors in hospital settings and conducting research. A student who wants to become a neonatal doctor can begin applying to internships and pediatric residency programs in the last year of medical school.
Most new graduates spend about one year in general internship positions, wherein they continue to take classes and begin treating patients under the supervision of experienced physicians. Hopeful neonatal doctors can enter two- to three-year pediatric residencies after completing their internships. As a resident, a person might work in a general hospital, pediatric specialty center, or private doctor's office under close supervision.
Doctors who want to work as pediatricians can choose to take licensing exams and start practicing after completing their residencies, but a person who wants to become a neonatal doctor needs additional training. A two- to three-year fellowship in the specialty allows a new doctor to work exclusively with patients in NICUs. He or she gains expert knowledge of the special considerations and treatment techniques needed to care for newborns. Following a successful fellowship, a doctor can take a series of official licensing tests and begin working independently.
@dfoster85 - I also had a c-section (mine was scheduled for complete placenta previa). They had to do it quite early and I was actually mentally prepared for my baby to have to spend some time in the NICU, but fortunately it wasn't necessary. Neonatal doctors and nurses attend all c-sections and also other births where there has been an indication baby is in distress (like passing meconium or having trouble with the heart rate).
I have a young cousin who is thinking about becoming a medical doctor and I have encouraged her to pursue neonatology. It's a field that needs people willing to pursue less traditionally medical ideas - for instance, babies actually warm up *better,* often, if they are placed skin-to-skin with their mothers rather than on a warmer!
People thinking about becoming a neonatal nurse or neonatologist should keep in mind that attending deliveries is also part of the job, so if that's not for you, then you might want to look elsewhere in pediatrics.
I had my first baby by C-section after a long, difficult labor. Anyone who's ever had a C-section knows that there are a whole lot of people in the room and you don't even know who all of them are. One will be the "resuscitation nurse" from the NICU to attend to the baby and there is also a neonatologist. I didn't realize she had been there until she came back by later to check on my baby.
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