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.