How do I Become a Neonatologist?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2019
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Neonatologists are licensed pediatricians who specialize in treating infants who are born with health problems. They perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, and provide emergency services when necessary. A person who wants to become a neonatologist is required to obtain a medical degree, complete a three-year residency program, and participate in an additional three years of specialty fellowship training. In addition, a series of licensing examinations must be passed throughout training to become a neonatologist.

An individual who believes that he or she might want to become a neonatologist can enroll in an accredited four-year university to earn a bachelor's degree. A student can choose to major in any subject, though focusing on premedical studies, biology, or health is usually the most helpful in preparing for medical school. Near the end of a bachelor's degree program, an individual can begin preparing essays, transcripts, and other documents needed to be considered for admissions into medical school. In addition, most countries require students to take and pass national medical college admissions tests to qualify for enrollment.


Once a person is accepted into a medical school, he or she can meet with advisers to determine the best course of study to become a neonatologist. A student usually spends the first two years of school in classrooms and laboratories learning about medical terminology, basic diagnostic and treatment techniques, and ethics. The final two years are spent participating in practical internships and research projects to gain hands-on experience. A successful student can earn a doctor of medicine degree and begin applying for pediatric residency programs at hospitals.

Most residency programs last for about three years, during which time new doctors have the opportunity to work alongside experienced pediatricians. A resident also receives part-time classroom instruction from practicing doctors to gain a detailed understanding of pathology and patient care in reference to treating infants and children. A new doctor can take a national examination near the end of a residency program to earn a pediatrician license.

Many doctors begin practicing general pediatrics after completing residency training, but a person who wants to become a neonatologist must complete additional training in the form of a fellowship. A three-year fellowship program allows a doctor to gain supervised experience in intensive care units working directly with newborns. A fellow is typically required to conduct independent research when not treating patients in order to meet licensing requirements and better understand the practice of neonatology.

After completing a fellowship, a doctor can take a final licensing examination to officially become a neonatologist. With a license, a physician can begin practicing independently at general hospitals, children's hospitals, or specialty clinics. In addition, many experienced doctors decide to conduct clinical research and teach medical school courses in their spare time.


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