What Is a Pediatric Surgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on April 07, 2024
3 min read

Pediatric surgeons are doctors who specialize in treating children. They’re trained to do operations on infants, children, and young adults. 

The process of becoming a pediatric surgeon is one of the longest and most difficult in the medical field. If your child needs surgery, they’ll be in the care of some of the most specialized, trained, and experienced surgeons around.

Children aren’t like adult patients. They can’t always describe what’s going on, so it can be challenging for doctors to communicate with them about medical issues. Depending on their age, they might not even realize what’s happening.  

Pediatric surgeons know how to make children feel comfortable and communicate with them. Pediatric surgeons are also involved in diagnosing conditions and in caring for children before and after surgery. They may specialize in one of four main types of care:

  • Prenatal. Pediatric surgeons work with radiologists to spot problems while a child is in the womb and plan corrective surgeries after birth. Prenatal surgery, or an operation on a fetus, is a newer practice that is available at some of the larger medical centers.
  • Neonatal. Neonatal surgery involves the repair of congenital disabilities, or birth defects, in newborns.
  • Trauma. Trauma surgeries happen when a child has a moderate to severe injury such as a fracture, cut, burn, or internal injury. This is one of the main reasons why children get intensive medical care. 
  • Pediatric oncology. Pediatric oncologists treat children who have cancer or benign (noncancerous) growths. 

A pediatric surgeon must first finish medical school or osteopathic medical school and an accredited 5-year general surgery residency. A 2-year fellowship program in pediatric surgery follows. The fellowship ends with written and oral exams to test a student’s knowledge of and ability to diagnose conditions related to pediatric surgery.

In addition to being certified in pediatric surgery, pediatric surgeons must be certified in generalized surgery.

Children and teens may see a pediatric surgeon for things like:

  • Problems that they were born with (congenital)
  • Tumor or cancer removal
  • Injuries
  • Transplants
  • A colonoscopy or endoscopy to look at the digestive tract

At the hospital, a member of your child’s care team will make sure that they’ve followed pre-surgery guidelines. They’ll also do a brief exam for a cold, the flu, or any unexpected medical issues.

Your child will put on a medical gown and get medication to put them to sleep (anesthesia). You’ll leave the room either before or after your child has been given anesthesia. 

You’ll go to a waiting room while the operation takes place. The surgeon or nurses may give you updates as they go. As nerve-wracking as it may be, you must wait until the surgery is over and your child has woken up to know how the surgery went. Some hospitals allow parents to be in the recovery room while their child wakes up. 

Depending on the surgery and the hospital, your child will stay there overnight or go home after waking up. The surgeon and nurses will talk with you about how to care for them afterward.