The Basics of Pediatrics

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the health and care of children ranging from neonatal to birth to eighteen years of age. Dr. Abraham Jacobi, known as the father of pediatrics, introduced this branch of medicinal practice in the mid-1800s.

Dr. Jacobi set up his medical practice in the United States after immigrating from Germany. At the time, many of his ideas were considered revolutionary, but he was adamant in his pursuit of knowledge that would benefit the lives of the children he saw in his practice. One such belief was the idea that large institutions were not adequate places for orphans to be raised. He railed against the idea that children could be “produced” in these assembly-line style facilities. Dr. Jacobi’s efforts were not in vain. By 1871 he had made his mark and earned a place for himself as the chair of the Section on Pediatrics of the American Medical Association, and his career and influence continued to grow from there.

Dr. Jacobi’s influence is still recognized in modern times as the American Medical Association in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics annually give out the Jacobi Award to pediatricians who are outstanding in their field. Today, the specialization in children’s medicine is still considered a relatively “new” medical practice since it has only existed for the last 200 years.

A pediatrician is first and foremost a medical doctor. They receive the same level of training as any other doctor. After graduating from medical school, an aspiring pediatrician then spends the next three years completing their education in an accredited pediatric residency program. This residency is where they acquire much of their specialized knowledge and practice pertaining to the specific care and instruction in medicine for children. After their residency is complete, they must be certified by the American Board of Pediatrics by passing a written exam. Pediatricians must recertify with the Board every seven years in order to keep their license.

The difference between pediatric medicine and adult medicine is due to the many differences between the physiology of adults and children. While obviously there are many consistencies in the human body from birth to adulthood, pediatrics recognizes that the care and treatment of infants and children is very different than that of adults. One example is that in children, there is a greater concern in recognizing and treating defects and variations in genetics and development, both physically and mentally.

Pediatricians treat and see children. They provide parents and caregivers with information and help at every step in a child’s development. Pediatric medicine aims to reduce infant and child mortality rate, control the spread of infectious diseases, foster healthy lifestyles that will continue into adulthood, and ease illnesses and injuries in children, both chronic and not. Pediatric medicine focuses not just on the physical well being of children by diagnosing and treating injuries, diseases, cancers, infections, and dysfunctions, but also in preventing, detecting and managing mental health and well being of children as well. This includes developmental delays/disorders, behavioral issues, social anxieties, and all other mental health issues.

Even though pediatrics is itself a specialization, pediatricians can obtain even further specializations. These include areas such as pediatric cardiology, critical care, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, neonatal medicine, or nephrology. These specializations determine where a pediatric doctor will work, whether they will be a primary care doctor for children or if they will practice primarily in cancer centers or operating rooms. There are a wide variety of options available for doctors who seek to work on the field of pediatrics.

Additionally, pediatricians need to be acutely aware of the different legal variants involved in dealing with minors. Pediatricians must be careful to study and know about guardianship and responsibility while also keeping in mind laws that protect a child’s privacy. In most cases, children cannot decide for themselves on issues of their treatment, so pediatric doctors must be careful to get informed consent from guardians but also follow laws that protect the privacy of medical information of children.

Pediatricians work closely with other medical professionals to ensure that all children receive the care they need in order to grow and thrive into adulthood. This requires a collaboration between pediatricians who are primary care doctors, subspecialists, and other members of the medical specialist and healthcare provider community in order to be sure that children are meeting their developmental milestones or are getting the help and care they need for any hindrance to their growth and health.