Are Pediatricians Different Than Other Physicians?

By Herschel Lessin, MD

You know, I’ve noticed that pediatricians are different from other doctors. Other physicians are usually found dressed either in starched white lab coats or conservative dark suits discussing serious health issues with their adult patients.

Pediatricians are also involved in discussing serious health issues but, more often than not, we are found dressed in Mickey Mouse ties sitting on the floor playing pat-a-cake with a toddler.

You see, children are not simply little adults. The most common mistake people make when dealing with Pediatrics is to assume that all you have to do is to take the same approach you take with adults and make it smaller to fit children.

Unfortunately, the health needs of children are neither smaller nor the same as those of adults. A completely different approach is needed. This goes way beyond our efforts to help the children get over their fear and anxiety. It goes way beyond playing with them and often acting silly. The fact remains, and I repeat: children are not little adults.

They may have similar problems such as cancer, substance abuse, heart disease, and high cholesterol, but the approach to these and other problems is vastly different from the approach you would take with an adult.

Remember, we are talking about children: The way a problem shows up, is different in children, its progression and symptoms are different in children, and its outcome can be very different in children. To make matters even more complicated, all of the above factors can change dramatically with a difference of a few years of age. The course and prognosis of an illness can change completely in a 1 year old vs. a 5 year old. Can the same be said if the patient were 51 years old vs. 55 years old?

The difference starts in our approach to the patient. Most kids learn at an early age that the doctor’s office is a place that various sneaky and nasty things will happen to them. It really doesn’t matter that it’s for their own good. No one likes needles, no matter how much good they do. It’s a fact of life for pediatricians that it is difficult to appreciate subtle differences in the sound of the heart and lungs when a child is screaming bloody murder into your stethoscope.

Therefore, a good pediatrician is often like a stage performer. Even if he’s had a lousy day, when he goes to examine the child, it’s SHOWTIME. All of a sudden, a grown adult with more than 20 years of education under his or her belt will be known to emit rather unusual gurgling, cooing and squealing noises. His face will undergo astounding contortions. Games that most other adults have not thought of since childhood will come pouring forth in a torrent of activity.

The tools of his trade will be adorned with stickers or brimming with unusual critters of all varieties. Animals may reside in the pocket of his coat or in his desk drawers. And if all of this activity has the desired result, the child will be smiling, happy and cooperative, and perhaps, despite the sharp implements to come, will even remember having a good time.

Pediatricians seem to have more fun. We are very lucky people. Because of our job, we seem to have a license to act silly, to act like children. For those of us that happily use this license, it is a wonderful reliever of stress. For no matter how bad the day has been, no matter what terrible illnesses or problems you’ve seen, you can always retreat and play with the children.

And over the years, as the children grow up, you get recognized when you’re out shopping or at the mall. All of those kids that were terrified at the office are now calling out: “Look there’s Dr. Lessin!”, as they run up and say hello. All the crying and discomfort is forgotten and you can forget about all those middle of the night calls, long hours, and much of the aggravation. It’s a nice feeling!

Because of all of these factors, doctors that care for children need a specialized approach and specialized training in the care of children. Knowing how to care for adults is not enough. Even though they are not often viewed as such, Pediatricians are specialists, specialists in children.

Dr. Lessin has been a practicing pediatrician in the Hudson Valley since 1982. He is a founding partner and serves as both Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research at the Children’s Medical Group

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3 thoughts on “Are Pediatricians Different Than Other Physicians?

  1. Great article! Just finished finding dogs and cats in 13 kids ears this morning. The kids know it’s coming and often make the noises before I can. Makes me smile every time. What a gift to be able to play and laugh while you’re doing your job!

  2. Pingback: When Should My child Start Seeing My Adult Physician? « Survivor: Pediatrics

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