A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the care of children. Pediatrics is a very broad medical specialty, encompassing everything from general practice to children's oncology. Just like other medical specialties, pediatrics requires a medical school education followed by several years of residency in pediatrics or “peds” as it is affectionately called. A pediatrician who wishes to subspecialize in a particular field like oncology or orthopedics must complete an additional residency in his or her specialty.
A pediatrician can care for a child from birth to around age 18, and in some cases the doctor may agree to keep seeing a child until his or her early twenties. Caring for children is distinctly different than caring for adults, since children have unique medical conditions and issues which adults do not face, and their different body size poses some unique treatment challenges.
Until the late 20th century, many serious illnesses caused death in childhood, and some pediatricians became experts in diseases which other doctors almost never saw. With advanced medical treatment options, these diseases have become more common in adults, leading some doctors to turn to pediatric specialists for knowledge about diseases like hemophilia and cystic fibrosis. A pediatrician in general practice typically refers patients with these illnesses to a doctor or hospital which specializes in them; there is also a great deal of funding for research on childhood diseases, and pediatrics has made extraordinary strides as a medical field in the late 20th century. As just one example, pre-term babies have a better survival rate than ever, thanks to the field of neonatology.
In general practice, pediatricians offer vaccinations, general health exams, and treatments for an assortment of minor conditions and injuries. When a patient manifests with a more serious problem, a general practice pediatrician will refer him or her to a specialist. Pediatricians can be found working in ophthalmology, rheumatology, surgery, anesthesiology, psychology, neurology, and an assortment of other medical specialties. Many teaching hospitals have very fine pediatric programs, and very sick children are frequently sent to such hospitals for the best available care.
Aside from general practice pediatricians, some health care professionals work in subspecialties of pediatrics. For instance, pediatric nutritionists usually have extra training on the unique nutritional needs of children and infants, especially those with allergies or illnesses that affect their diet. Likewise, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon will have completed extensive research and training on childhood bone development. If a family is in need of specialized treatments or diets for their child, making an appointment with one of these specialists is a great start.
People who work in pediatrics sometimes say that the work is very rewarding, and also uniquely frustrating. A pediatrician must work not only with the sick patient, but with parents and other family members who may be extremely concerned. Like all doctors, he or she also has certain ethical responsibilities, such as a mandate to report suspect child abuse, a problem encountered more frequently by pediatricians because they work exclusively with children.