Pediatrics is the care of children and young adults. Within the field of pediatrics, however, there are a great number of specialties. Pediatric specialists choose a particular area of pediatric medicine in which to focus their careers. In some cases, a pediatrician will have a specialty in mind from the very beginning of their schooling. In other cases, a doctor might work for years in general practice pediatrics before being drawn toward a particular area of medicine.
Here, we’ll review some of the most common and popular pediatric specialties. Pediatric specialists provide a very valuable service for their patients, offering a high degree of knowledge and expertise in a narrow field. This expertise often makes the difference between proper treatment and treatment which although it may not be wrong, might not be targeted enough to achieve optimal results.
Take the example of psoriasis, a common skin condition. When given a quick examination by a general practitioner, psoriasis can easily be dismissed as a simple rash, potentially caused by an allergic reaction or an irritating plant. However, when examined by a pediatric dermatologist, the psoriasis will be properly treated, and both patient and parents will be educated on how to most effectively control future breakouts.
Common Types of Pediatric Specialists
While pediatric specialists can choose from literally any area of medicine, some specialties are more common than others. Many specialists also choose to focus their career on two or more areas of medicine which often intersect, such as orthopedics and sports medicine.
- Behavioral Pediatrics – Although it encompasses many different issues, behavioral pediatrics is still considered its own specialty. Pediatric specialists focusing on behavioral issues will have considerable knowledge of developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and the special problems children face when coping with an emotional trauma. Behavioral specialists also often deal with anxiety related issues, diagnosing them as well as giving the patient and parents ways to help alleviate anxiety. Since they are usually not psychologists or psychiatrists themselves, behavioral specialists will refer cases out of their area of expertise to the appropriate mental health professionals.
- Child Abuse – A very challenging specialty, pediatric specialists who choose child abuse as their focus must be truly dedicated to helping children at risk. These specialists are highly trained in recognizing the signs of abuse, which children sometimes try to hide. They are also skilled in treating the many different results of abuse, both physical and mental. Treating cases of severe abuse is critical, as the injuries that often arise can be devastating to a growing child if left untreated.
- Anesthesia – In cases where surgery on a child is necessary, having skilled pediatric specialists on hand who are trained in sedating children is crucial. The body of a child can respond very differently to anesthetic than the body of an adult, and so drugs must be administered and monitored very carefully.
- Endocrinology – Pediatric specialists in the field of endocrinology are specially trained in disorders of the endocrine glands, such as the pancreatic, thyroid and pituitary glands. These glands introduce hormones into the bloodstream which are responsible for a number of crucial functions. Some well-known disorders of these glands include diabetes and hyper- or hypo-thyroidism. Diabetes in children is a serious condition, but can be managed when detected early. Thyroid disorders commonly result in weight issues, which are often blamed on poor eating habits until the disorder itself is discovered. Detecting these disorders as early as possible can save a child from years of discouraging failed diets in an effort to lose weight.
- Oncology – One of the most challenging specialties, pediatric oncology is the diagnosis and treatment of cancer as well as benign (non-cancerous) tumors. Childhood cancer can be devastating for children, families and healthcare professionals alike. Pediatric specialists in this field often choose to make their focus even narrower in order to give their patients the best possible chance of survival. For example, an oncologist may choose to become an expert in the field of leukemia, or cancer of the blood or bone marrow, since this cancer often affects young children.
- Integrative Medicine – A relatively new specialty which is quickly gaining popularity, integrative medicine involves bringing together older, traditional medicinal practices, such as herbs and acupuncture, with modern medical practices like pharmaceuticals. By combining these two major schools of medical thought, pediatric specialists can create a customized health care plan for each patient. Since traditional medicine is often gentler on the body than western medicine, it’s believed by many to be much better for the growing bodies and minds of children. Combining gentle and relaxing methods with western medicine often produces wonderful results with less stress and trauma to the patient.
As you can see, there is a great deal of potential specialties for pediatric specialists to choose from. In most cases, a pediatrician gravitates toward a specialty which they feel strongly about. In other cases, a student will demonstrate a talent for a particular area of medicine during their schooling and choose to focus on that area once they have graduated.
Whatever the reason for becoming one, pediatric specialists play an integral role in giving children and young adults the best and most appropriate care available. While nothing can replace a good general practitioner for most common ailments, pediatric specialists have a deep level of knowledge that is invaluable to patients with more serious conditions.
Seeing a general practitioner is essential for regular exams, and general practitioners are usually responsible for noticing a more serious condition and referring a patient to a specialist. However, when something more serious is present, nothing can replace the expertise of a pediatric specialist.
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