Paediatricians are qualified to look after children ranging in ages from extremely premature babies to 18 year-old school leavers.
Sub-specialist paediatricians have highly developed expertise in a special area of paediatrics, such as neurology (brain and nervous system), cardiology (hearts), neonatology (intensive care newborns) and are usually based at a specialist (tertiary) children’s hospital like Westmead and Randwick.
From the start of medical school to obtaining a paediatric fellowship takes an average of 12 years, which doesn’t take into account the requirements of many medical schools for an undergraduate degree, working and time off having a family. Paediatrics is a very popular specialty for females who currently compromise over two thirds of trainees.
My job as a paediatrician involves two functions. Firstly, hospital work supervising the care of children and newborns, attending high risk births and managing sick children referred from emergency department and family doctors. Secondly, seeing children in out-patient consulting rooms referred from the family doctor for a great variety of problems (from infant colic to seizures, asthma, ADHD, autism, constipation, behavioural problems and mental health disorders).
Paediatricians do not do major surgery but are skilled in procedures including spinal taps (lumbar punctures), taking blood, placing intravenous cannulae, managing newborn airways and advanced life support and resuscitation skills.
The work is interesting with each week presenting an unpredictable variety of challenging cases. A key and essential part of the job is working and communicating with parents and families so they can understand and manage their child’s problems as well as possible.
The most important part of the paediatric assessment is obtaining a detailed history from the parents and, secondly, performing a thorough clinical examination. Tests are only done after assessing the child, and are used to rule in or rule out possible diagnoses.
Paediatricians work closely in a multidisciplinary environment with a variety of other health professionals including nursing staff, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health staff and teaching staff.
Paediatrics is a wonderful and rewarding challenge treating and observing sick children (who usually recover quickly) and being able to support parents through difficult challenges. For parents to place their trust in a paediatrician to look after the most important part of their life is an honour and privilege, which carries a great degree of responsibility.