Medical training is a huge commitment and a major investment. Pediatrics as a specialty offers excellent job satisfaction, ample employment opportunities, and flexibility. It is no surprise that general pediatricians report greater job satisfaction than any other specialists.
Pediatricians are free to choose one or more practice settings and to pursue a wide variety of interests. Generalist pediatricians are needed to serve as educators, mentors, hospitalists, researchers, and much more.
General pediatricians focus on the physical, emotional, and social health of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults from birth to 21 years. Developmentally oriented and trained in skilled assessment, their patient-care lens is focused on prevention, detection, and management of physical, behavioral, developmental, and social problems that affect children. General pediatricians diagnose and treat infections, injuries, and many types of organic disease and dysfunction. They work to reduce infant and child mortality, foster healthy lifestyles, and ease the day-to-day difficulties of those with chronic conditions.
With structured evaluation and early intervention, general pediatricians identify and address developmental and behavioral problems that result from exposure to psychosocial stressors. They appreciate the vulnerability of children and adolescents, and actively advocate for measures to protect their health and safety. The ability to communicate effectively with patients, families, teachers, and social service professionals is a key to effective pediatric care.
General pediatricians collaborate with pediatric subspecialists and other medical and surgical specialists in the treatment of complex diseases and disorders. They work closely with other health professionals concerned with the emotional needs of children. Pediatricians advise educators and child-care professionals, and advocate for access to care and a medical home for all children.
General pediatrics is a multifaceted primary care specialty. The general pediatrician's responsibilities include:
- Management of serious and life-threatening illnesses
- Diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic disorders
- Monitoring physical and psychosocial growth and development
- Age-appropriate screening
- Health supervision (health promotion and disease prevention activities to enable each child to reach full potential)
- Anticipatory guidance (advice and education for patients and parents regarding appropriate preparation for predictable developmental challenges)
- Referral of more complex conditions as needed
- Consultative partnerships with other care providers, such as family practitioners, nurse practitioners, and surgeons
- Community-based activities in sports medicine, school health, and public health
Combined Training Programs
Several combined programs are available to medical students interested in training to be board certified in both pediatrics and an adult specialty or pediatric subspecialty. Graduates of combined programs are able to sit for 2 (or in one case, 3) examinations.
Pediatric Medical Subspecialties
Pediatric residents who choose to focus on a particular aspect of child health, either exclusively or as a part of their general pediatric practice, complete a subspecialty fellowship after residency. Pediatric subspecialists are more likely to work in academic medical centers and specialty hospitals, where their responsibilities include teaching and research along with direct patient care. Given these enhanced responsibilities, AAP data shows full-time pediatric subspecialists work, on average, more hours per week than full-time generalists.
Other Training Options
Some pediatric specialists do not complete their general pediatrics residency first. For example, after a surgical residency, someone might complete a fellowship in pediatric orthopedic surgery.
Pediatric subspecialists of all kinds are physicians who like to "dig deep" in an area of focus while maintaining long-term relationships with patients and families. "My job allows me to work with people and to work with cutting-edge technology," one pediatric cardiologist says. "I am able to follow my patients from the newborn period until young adulthood, and not a day goes by that I do not learn something or see something that I have never seen before. If I live to be 100, I will never be bored."
American Academy of Pediatrics