A neonatologist is a pediatrician who specializes in treating newborn infants. Physicians refer their patients to a neonatologist for complex and high-risk births. When babies are born prematurely, with a birth defect or with a serious illness, a neonatologist may assist with the delivery and attend to the newborn’s medical needs. Neonatologists consult with obstetricians if pre-natal sonograms suggest the possibility of a birth defect or disease.
After completing a four-year bachelor of science degree, which may be known as “pre-med,” aspiring neonatologists enter medical school, which takes another four years. The first two years teach students the basics, including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology, while the final two years include rotations in medical specialties, including pediatric medicine. After completing medical school, students complete another three-year residency, where they choose a specialty in pediatrics. Most then complete a fellowship in neonatology for their final years of studies.
All neonatologists need to get a license to practice medicine in their states. They must also be board-certified as a pediatrician by the American Board of Pediatrics. They then apply for a subspecialty in one or more areas of neonatal medicine, including developmental-behavioral pediatrics, pediatric emergency medicine, neurodevelopmental disabilities and neonatal-perinatal medicine. Each subspecialty has its own requirements in terms of testing and experience. To keep their licenses and certifications current, neonatologists must complete the number of continuing educations hours dictated by their state licensing boards.
Neonatologists diagnose and treat newborns. They also provide preventive care, such as making sure parents are adequately feeding and attending to their newborn’s needs. Neonatologists focus their services on infants four weeks old and younger, but may extend care if they are following a patient in an intensive care unit or pediatric nursery. They routinely provide longer-term care for premature infants, who suffer from a host of complications such as underdeveloped organs, low birth weight or lack of responsiveness. They coordinate care and consult with other specialists, including primary care physicians, pediatricians and obstetricians.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups neonatologists with the more general category of pediatricians, reporting a median annual income of $168,650 as of May 2010. The website Medscape reported that pediatricians reported a 5 percent increase in pay during 2011. Demand for neonatologists is high. The American Medical Association's website cites a study by the Children’s Hospital Association that found that the current shortage of pediatricians, including neonatologists, is resulting in parents having to wait for weeks for their newborns to be seen.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: What is a Neonatologist?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Pediatricians
- Medscape News: Medscape Physician Compensation Report: 2012 Results
- American Medical Association: Pediatric Specialty Shortages Cause Long Waits for Care
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Pediatric Residency Program
- University of Colorado: Neonatology-Fellowship
- American Board of Pediatrics: A Guide to Board Certification in Pediatrics
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Neonatology
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