A pediatric doctor, or pediatrician, is a medical doctor that specializes in conditions that affect babies, infants, adolescents, and young adults.

Children experience rapid physical, emotional, and behavioral changes as they grow up. Children and teenagers have unique medical needs that might fall outside the expertise of doctors who primarily treat adults.

Continue reading to learn more about pediatricians, including what they do, who they treat, and the qualifications required to become a pediatrician. This article also provides a list of pediatric subspecialties.

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Pediatricians may specialize in treating specific medical conditions or age ranges.

A pediatrician is a medical doctor who specializes in treating infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatric care can begin before conception and continue through pregnancy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, setting an upper age limit for pediatric care is not straightforward. The Academy discourage people from setting age limits on pediatric care, as this will depend on an individual’s physical and mental needs.

Children undergo rapid physical and mental changes as they grow. Pediatricians understand this fact and assess a child’s health status based on the normal ranges for their age.

Pediatricians can help diagnose medical conditions in children. Depending on the condition, parents or caregivers may take their children to a primary care pediatrician or a pediatric specialist.

Many pediatricians work as primary care physicians. This type of pediatrician performs regular health and wellness checkups. They also diagnose and treat a wide range of general health conditions, give vaccinations, and offer appropriate health advice to young people and their parents or caregivers.

Other pediatricians specialize in treating specific medical conditions or age ranges. Examples of pediatric subspecialties include the following:

Adolescent medicine specialists focus on care during adolescence, around 11 to 21 years old.

Critical care pediatricians facilitate teams of healthcare professionals who treat children in unstable or critical health situations. These pediatricians usually work in hospital-based intensive care units.

Developmental behavioral pediatricians evaluate the behavioral development of children and teens. Specialists in this field diagnose and treat developmental, learning, and behavioral problems in young people.

Child abuse pediatricians possess specialized training, experience, and skills necessary for evaluating if a child may have experienced abuse or neglect.

Pediatric oncologists specialize in diagnosing and treating different types of cancer in children.

Pediatric cardiologists diagnose and treat various heart conditions in children. Many pediatric cardiologists work closely with pediatric heart surgeons when deciding the best treatment strategies.

Pediatric pulmonologists diagnose, treat, and manage children who have breathing problems and lung diseases.

Pediatric rheumatologists treat children and adolescents who have musculoskeletal disorders, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain.

Pediatric nephrologists specialize in treating conditions that affect the urinary system, including urinary tract infections and kidney disease.

Pediatric neurologists treat and manage neurological disorders in children. Neurological conditions that present during childhood may persist through adulthood. Pediatric neurologists oversee their patients’ care from diagnosis through adolescence.

Neonatal-perinatal pediatricians provide care to infants before, during, and after birth. They also treat premature and critically ill newborns.

Pediatric gastroenterologists look after the health of a young person’s digestive system.

Pediatric endocrinologists specialize in the endocrine system and the hormones it produces. An endocrinologist may treat a variety of conditions in children, including diabetes.

Pediatricians perform a diverse range of health-related services that range from health and wellness screenings to management of complex medical conditions.

Pediatricians generally perform the following procedures:

  • physical exams
  • giving vaccinations
  • treating injuries, including fractures and dislocations
  • evaluating a child’s physical, emotional, and social development
  • prescribing medications, such as pain relievers and antibiotics
  • providing general health advice
  • diagnosing and treating various medical conditions
  • connecting families with other pediatric specialists, if needed

Pediatric specialists obtain additional education and training in specific treatments and diagnostic procedures. For instance, a pediatric heart specialist (cardiologist) has advanced knowledge and experience in treating heart conditions in children. They may also have received training to perform different types of heart tests and procedures.

A primary care pediatrician may lack the qualifications or expertise needed to treat complex medical conditions and may refer a family to the appropriate pediatric specialist for further testing and treatment.

Parents and caregivers can take their child to a pediatrician for periodic well-child visits. Well-child visits are an opportunity for parents and caregivers to ask any questions they may have regarding the health of their child. Pediatricians may also give vaccinations at these visits, if appropriate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 6 children between the ages of 3–17 years have at least one issue with development or behavior. Early identification and treatment can lead to better long-term outcomes for young children.

During a well-care visit, a pediatrician evaluates a child’s physical and emotional development. They may also ask questions about a child’s eating, sleeping, and social habits. Pediatricians can inform parents and educators if their child has any signs that suggest a physical or behavioral problem.

March of Dimes recommend that parents or caregivers take their baby to a pediatrician for a well-child visit about seven times during their first year. Children between the ages of 1 and 2 years should see a pediatrician once every 3 to 6 months.

Parents or caregivers that have ongoing concerns about their child’s health, should call or make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician.

People should visit the emergency room if a child has a fever of 104°F (40°C) or over, or if a fever is accompanied by seizures, confusion, constant crying, or trouble breathing. Call the emergency services if a baby of younger than 2 months has a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C).

Any parent or caregiver who thinks their child is having a medical emergency should go to the nearest emergency room.

Pediatricians must have extensive training and education and be licensed before they start treating children.

According to the American Board of Pediatrics, pediatricians must complete a 3-year residency program in pediatrics after they finish medical school.

Some pediatricians start their general care practice after finishing the residency, while others enter fellowship programs where they receive additional training in pediatric subspecialties.

Pediatricians must receive a state license before they can begin their practice. The exact requirements for licensure vary depending on the state.

Most pediatricians go one step further and earn board certification. Board-certified pediatricians undergo continuous professional education throughout their careers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics define adolescents as individuals aged 11–21 years. Pediatricians can continue seeing young people throughout adolescence. Parents or their children may feel more comfortable transitioning to a pediatrician who specializes in treating teenagers.

Pediatric care generally covers people until they turn 21. However, this age limit is not mandatory, and some insurance companies terminate pediatric care after a person turns 18, according to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A pediatrician is a medical doctor who treats babies, children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatricians can work as primary care physicians or specialize in treating children in certain age ranges or children with specific health conditions.

Parents and caregivers can expect frequent pediatrician visits for infants and young children. Older children and adolescents can benefit from annual well-child visits.

People can choose to transition to doctors who treat adults during late adolescence or early adulthood. The choice to change doctors depends on the child, their pediatrician, and, in some cases, insurance coverage.