We have been asked the question – “What does a paediatrician do?” I might start with explaining who paediatricians are.
Paediatricians are doctors who have completed specialists training in medical conditions that affect the wellbeing of children. In Australia a general paediatrician would have completed at least another six years of training to complete the specialisation process. Some sub-specialist would then continue further training in a sub-speciality field of their interest.
General paediatricians care for all children, from the day your beautiful baby arrives in this world, until your still beautiful (but maybe a bit grumpy) teenager finishes school. Paediatricians coordinate the healthcare of children to ensure they have access to support where needed. Here are the five most common reasons children are referred to a paediatrician.
Paediatricians ensure your newborn baby arrives safely in this world.
Paediatricians often attends the delivery of newborn babies. Not all deliveries require the presence of a paediatrician but if any complications are anticipated a paediatrician will be called to the delivery. Fortunately most babies do not need much help and the paediatrician are there “just in case.” If a paediatrician is at the delivery, they will examine the baby to make sure that it is healthy. Occasionally a baby might have some difficulties at birth and might need some support, for example, to start breathing properly. In the days that follow the paediatrician would normally do a few more checks to ensure everyone is adjusting well and then do a check before the baby is discharged home.
Paediatricians look after premature or unwell babies.
Unfortunately babies sometimes arrive earlier than expected, are born with medical conditions that affect them at birth or suffer from birth complications. The baby will then likely be admitted to a neonatal unit. In not so serious circumstances, this will be in a nursery or special care baby unit. If the baby is very unwell admission to a neonatal intensive care unit might be needed. General paediatricians often look after babies admitted to nurseries. If the baby is admitted to a NICU then paediatricians who have specialised in neonatal care will take over care of the baby.
Paediatricians look after the growth and development of your baby and toddler.
Common reasons young children are referred to a paediatrician are about concerns with the growth or development of a young child. Paediatricians have been trained to assess growth and development of children. Sometimes the problem might be fairly simple and just need a bit of reassurance and advice. Sometimes the paediatrician will ask an allied health provider to have a more detailed look at the child’s difficulties and provide advice to optimise the child’s development. Occasionally concerns can point to a more serious endocrine, neurological or developmental conditions and paediatricians will then decide whether further tests, such as blood tests or scans, are necessary to find the reason for the child’s difficulties.
Paediatricians assess and treat children with neuro-developmental and behaviour difficulties.
Behavioural difficulties are one of the most common reasons parents will request a referral to a paediatrician. For younger children, this could be sleeping, eating or toileting difficulties. Older pre-school or school aged children are often referred for ADHD type assessments because they are extremely busy, unable to sit still or have difficulties concentrating. These concerns sometimes cause difficulties at school and the child might fall behind in their academic work or the child’s behaviour could wreak havoc within the family. Paediatricians also frequently see concerns about possible autistic features, especially if the child behaves in an unusual way, struggle making friends or come across as very different from their peers. These types of consultations are often more complex and it can take time to get to the bottom of the child’s difficulties.
Treating common childhood illnesses.
Children are often referred with a range of common illnesses, such as asthma and other respiratory conditions, eczema and skin lesions, allergies, gastro-intestinal conditions, especially constipation and soiling, urinary tract conditions and neurological problems, to name a few. Most of these conditions are common and relatively easily managed by a general paediatrician in an outpatient setting. Some conditions, such as epilepsy or other neurological conditions are a bit more complex and would likely involve more intensive longer-term care.
The above are probably the most common reasons children are referred to a general paediatrician’s rooms but is by no means an exhaustive list of what a paediatrician does. Many paediatricians work in hospital settings and will look after children when they are unwell with, for example, infective illnesses, heart conditions, respiratory problems, cancers or in the rehabilitation process after they have been in accidents.
Paediatricians also often work behind the scenes to advocate for the health and wellbeing of children, this can be with the child protection system or working in non-profit organisations to develop access to services for children who are marginalised in society or who live in poorer parts of the world.
If you have any concerns about the development or health of your child, feel free to ask your GP for a referral to see a paediatrician.