Pediatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with children's health, from birth to young adulthood. Many specialized areas of practice are found within pediatrics, including neonatology. Neonatologists are specialists in the care of newborn infants, especially those with acute needs, such as premature or underweight infants, those with congenital birth defects and infants with serious illnesses. Neonatologists are not among the highest-paid doctors, but out-earn general pediatricians by a significant margin.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track salary data for physicians by specialty, but several professional bodies and consulting firms perform regular physician salary surveys. A 2011 special issue of "Modern Healthcare" collected and analyzed 16 of the medical world's leading salary surveys, looking for trends and compensation benchmarks. Ten of the 16 surveys reported salaries for neonatologists, with averages ranging from $160,000 per year to as much as $480,000 per year. Aside from these highest and lowest figures, most other surveys fell into either the $225,000 to $250,000 range, or another cluster at $290,000 to $310,000 per year.
The range of salaries for general pediatricians corresponded to the low end of compensation for neonatologists. The Modern Healthcare article reported average pediatrician salaries ranging from $161,732 to $229,041 per year. This was roughly comparable to family physicians, whose averages ranged from $162,908 per year up to $221,196. Ob/Gyns fared better, reporting average salaries of $247,680 to $420,000 per year. None of these rank among the profession's high earners. In comparison, average salaries for anesthesiologists ranged from $341,583 per year to $520,000, while invasive cardiologists averaged $373,500 to $532,000 per year.
Becoming a Neonatologist:
Neonatologists spend several years in training. It begins with eight years' schooling, divided between an undergraduate pre-medical degree and then a doctoral degree from a medical or osteopathic college. Newly-graduated doctors must first complete a three-year residency in pediatrics, learning to treat children under the supervision of experienced practitioners. Doctors wishing to qualify as neonatologists must then complete a three-year fellowship in that specialty, serving clinical rotations in neonatal intensive-care units and other suitable clinical settings. Becoming certified as a neonatologist also requires the doctor to pass a separate board certification examination, and maintain certification through an ongoing commitment to continuing education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for physicians and surgeons in general will increase by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. For neonatologists, demand will depend on the number of new births each year. The shifting of population demographics holds good news for the specialty. Although the baby boomers are no longer having children, the so-called "echo boom" of their children and grandchildren is now entering its prime child-bearing years. This should provide long-term employment prospects for neonatologists entering the field.