BY MUHAMMAD SIDDIQ – In the world of medical care, no two patients are the same. Every human being has varying circumstances relating to one’s medical health that make his or her treatment unique. One of the largest influences on the medical care given to a patient is his or her stage in life.

Infants, children and adolescents are not just small adults. The anatomical, social and emotional differences between youth and adults have a large impact on the way that illnesses affect each as well as the way that healthcare is administered. It is due to these differences that pediatrics is such a large and important part of the medical world.

Pediatrics is the branch of medicine dealing with the medical care of patients under 18 years of age. There are many fields of pediatrics ranging from general medicine to surgical specialists. Pediatric medicine is a relatively new specialty, with many of its developments taking place in the mid-19th century.  Pediatricians complete at least a 3-year residency program in order to gain the special skills needed to child’s health. It is important that a person see a good pediatrician because they are at a crucial stage in their life. During these developmental years, it is important that youth be checked to make sure they are meeting milestones in growth and behavior, passing their physical examinations, receiving vaccinations, receiving a proper nutrition and are being referred to specialists if they need expert care.  While a non-pediatric physician may be able to perform many of these health services, the special training that pediatricians possess along with the fact that they only see children in their practice allows them to best recognize and treat childhood illness. The smaller body of a child is substantially different physiologically from that of an adult, thus making their treatment much more complex. 

Some of the main differences between conventional and pediatric medical care arise from the anatomical differences between youth and adults. Anatomical differences often change how susceptible children are to accidents and illness. Children have a greater ratio of skin surface area to body size than adults. Children also have thinner skin than adults. As a result, children are more susceptible to illness affecting the integrity of the skin or accidents involving the absorbance of agents through the skin. Children also have higher respiratory rates and smaller airways than adults which make them more susceptible to illness related to the pulmonary system. Children are also more prone to dehydration and are more susceptible to vomiting and diarrhea. These anatomical differences, along with several others, result in the need for more specialized care when treating children. When giving IV medication, for example, an extra level of care is needed because vascular access in children is more difficult, especially if they are very young. Variation in the sizes of children only further complicates the process.

Aside from anatomical factors, social development also contributes to the way children are looked after differently from adults. Pediatricians are trained to be mindful when treating and communicating with children and to be aware of the broader context of the patient’s life. Children and adolescents are in a fragile stage of life where they are still learning important values and skills. Adults, on the other hand, have more defined values and are less likely to be influenced by the world around them. Youth learn in many ways: through relationships with family and friends, through the media they consume, through the knowledge they receive in school, etc. Of course, not all of the influences youth are exposed to are positive. As a result, it is important for pediatricians to take a look at the circumstances that influence a child’s behaviour and do what they can to promote healthy social development.

The people and environment surrounding children and adolescents also influence emotional development. Unlike most adults, children are still developing the ability to recognize and manage their emotions.  The bond a person in their youth has with their friends and family can greatly affect their overall emotional well being. This is especially the case with young children, where studies have shown that attachment to a caregiver is crucial to emotional development. Without an emotional bond to a caregiver, children have been seen to have low self esteem, display less persistence and have worse peer relations. It is important that a pediatrician have the ability to recognize emotional distress in their patients and inquire about it to see if the patient has an issue in their life negatively affecting their emotional growth.

Taking into account these factors such as the social and emotional stages of patients in their youth as well as the fact that childhood can be a stressful time for parents, pediatric health care practices have certain accommodations that family practices may not have. Many children often fear visiting the doctor. As a result, most pediatric offices present themselves as welcoming. Waiting rooms are often filled with toys, books and movies and kids are given rewards such as stickers at the end of a visit. Pediatric doctors offices may also take extra time to answer questions and accommodate as they understand how concerned parents are for the health of their children.

With the specific needs of infants, children and adolescents, it’s no wonder that the field of pediatrics is so large. While a family practice may be able to provide sufficient care to patients in their youth, the specialized care and welcoming environment a pediatrician can provide are just two reasons why parents choose to entrust them their children’s health care. By only seeing children in their practice, pediatricians develop the skills needed to recognize and treat conditions in a child’s unique anatomy, and understand child development. Despite being a relatively new field in medicine, the importance of pediatric health care is immense and is only advancing as medical research progresses.