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What Is a Pediatrician?

One of the many things you need to do to prepare for your little one's arrival is to choose a doctor to oversee his or her health care. A pediatrician is medical doctor who manages the physical, behavioral, and mental health of children from birth until age 21. A pediatrician is trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of childhood illnesses from minor health problems to serious diseases.  

Pediatricians have graduated from medical school and completed a three-year residency program in pediatrics. A board-certified pediatrician has passed rigorous exams given by the American Board of Pediatrics.  To remain certified, pediatricians have to meet regular continuing education requirements.

What Does Your Pediatrician Do?

Your pediatrician will see your child many times from birth to age 2 and annually from age 2 to age 5 for "well-child visits." After age 5, your pediatrician will likely continue to see your child every year for annual checkups. Your pediatrician is also the first person to call whenever your child is sick. In caring for your child, a pediatrician will:

  • Do physical exams.
  • Give your child recommended immunizations.
  • Make sure your child is meeting developmental milestones in growth, behavior, and skills.
  • Diagnose and treat your child's illnesses, infections, injuries, and other health problems.
  • Give you information about your child's health, safety, nutrition, and fitness needs.
  • Answer your questions about your child's growth and development.
  • Refer to and collaborate with specialists should your child need care beyond the pediatrician's expertise.

How Does Your Pediatrician Work With Your Delivery Team?

Most hospitals ask if you have a pediatrician when you go in to deliver. Your baby's first examination may be with a hospital pediatrician or your chosen pediatrician. This depends on hospital policy and whether your pediatrician makes rounds at the hospital where you deliver. If a hospital pediatrician examines your baby, he or she will provide your pediatrician with the records from these exams.

After you leave the hospital, your pediatrician will see your baby 48 to 72 hours after discharge, then regularly after that for "well-child visits."

If your child ever needs more specialized care, your pediatrician will coordinate care with other providers. He or she will help you understand complex information and help you make decisions as needed.

Why Do You Need a Pediatrician?

Family physicians can also provide routine care for children. Choosing between a family doctor and a pediatrician can be a personal preference. Here are some reasons to consider choosing a pediatrician:

  • Pediatricians have specialized training in the physical, emotional, and behavioral needs of children.
  • Pediatricians only see children, so they often have a broader experience recognizing and treating childhood illnesses.
  • If your child was born early or has a health condition that needs close monitoring, a pediatrician may offer more specialized care.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on July 31, 2014

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