Viewpoint: Choosing a pediatric career

September 1, 2009

Editorial discusses what makes a future pediatrician.

Last month a medical student, who will be applying to pediatric residency programs this year, asked me to review her personal statement, a required element of the electronic application system for the National Residency Matching Program. Many students have difficulty communicating the reasons for their career choice, resorting to descriptions of their love of children and their experiences as camp counselors or babysitters. The student with whom I met last month had taken the latter approach.

I pointed out to her that intern selection committees will probably want to know more about why she had selected a career in pediatric medicine than was included in her testament about her affection for children, but I realized that I was uncertain how I would describe the particular characteristics of a medical student that would suggest an aptitude for pediatrics.

But what I think we want to know, beyond grades and test scores, is whether the student has demonstrated willingness to prioritize commitment to projects and to patients over personal activities, and to work to improve services, both in the community and in the clinic. We want to know that the student values his/her opportunities to work collegially, and that he/she works to learn as much as possible about the population being served and the medical care that is required.

And we want to know whether the student pursues every avenue possible-including completing paperwork, making phone calls, soliciting advice, and following up on laboratory studies-to ensure that each patient receives the care that will yield the best outcome possible. It's not easy to squeeze all that into a one-page personal statement.

Finally, somewhere in the story told in the personal statement, it should be clear that the student is gratified by and enthusiastic about working with children. That's necessary; it's just not sufficient.

DR. McMILLAN, editor-in-chief of Contemporary Pediatrics, is professor of pediatrics, vice chair for pediatric education, and director of the pediatric residency training program, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.