A pediatrician is a medical doctor who specializes in providing care for children from birth through childhood. Pediatrics covers a wide array of health services, from preventative care to diagnosing and treating various diseases and illnesses. A doctor of pediatrics understands the unique characteristics of children and accounts for them in their treatment.
There is no set recommended age limit for pediatric patients. How long a person continues to receive treatment from a pediatrician depends on their individual needs.
What Does a Pediatrician Do?
The day-to-day functions of a pediatrician will vary depending on their specialty. Below are some of the different pediatric specialties.
Parents typically take their children to a general pediatrician for yearly check-ups or if they fall ill. Doctors in this specialty focus on making sure that a child’s development is on-track and look for any issues that may impact their physical or mental health. General pediatricians also provide advice to parents on issues like:
- Caring for injuries
- Addressing developmental delays
- Dealing with behavioral problems
- Managing chronic illnesses
A pediatric allergist helps children dealing with allergies or other immune system issues, including:
- Hay fever
- Immune disorders
Pediatric allergists can be found in a variety of settings, including hospitals and private practices. They understand how the effects of allergies and immune system problems affect children. That helps them make a formal diagnosis of an issue and work out a treatment plan to address the issue.
Pediatric oncologists train to understand the different types of cancer that can develop in children. They look for the specific DNA changes that occur in cancers that can strike in childhood, including:
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
Cancer typically manifests differently in children than it does in adults. Pediatric oncologists work to understand the nature of cancer in a child, then make sure they receive the right kind of treatment.
Pediatric cardiologists treat children and teenagers with congenital heart disease and those who develop heart conditions after birth. They typically coordinate care with other physicians to create comprehensive treatment plans to address the child’s heart issue. Pediatric cardiologists understand the unique challenges that come with treating children with heart disease. They provide care that accounts for the differences in a child’s physiology versus that of an adult.
Other subspecialties for pediatricians include:
- Emergency Medicine
- Critical Care
- Gastroenterology and Nutrition
- Infectious Disease
- Pulmonary Medicine
Education and Training
Education for pediatricians often starts with taking a pre-med track while in college. During that period, you can figure out your strengths and which path you might wish to pursue as a pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that students enter medical school as well-rounded individuals. That can include doing volunteer work or participating in research projects.
Potential medical school applicants are typically required to take the Medical School Admission Test (MCAT). Most people take the test around 18 months before the semester in which they plan on attending medical school. Your school may also require you to come in for an interview before making an admission decision.
Medical school graduates interested in becoming pediatricians typically receive around three additional years of specialized training for pediatrics while completing their residency. They learn to understand the different conditions that affect children and learn the skills needed to address those problems effectively.
Residents are eligible to take a written exam from the American Board of Pediatrics. If they pass, they receive a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP) designation, the highest membership in that organization.
Pediatricians interested in pursuing a subspeciality may be required to receive up to three additional years of medical training in that area. Pediatric subspecialists are often consulted by a child’s primary care pediatrician for help addressing specific issues.
Reasons to See a Pediatrician
Parents should make a note of any unusual behaviors or warning signs of serious illness, like:
- Running a high fever
- A severe sore throat
- Persistent diarrhea
- Constant coughing
- Passing out
A pediatrician can examine the child and make recommendations on further treatment. When a child experiences a real medical emergency that can cause permanent harm or threaten their life, they may require emergency medical treatment. You may want to speak with your child’s regular pediatrician for advice on the best course of action.