What Is a Pediatrician?

These doctors are trained to take care of children from birth to adulthood

Doctor and nurse standing with baby in doctor's office
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If you're wondering what a pediatrician does, it's almost easier to ask what a pediatrician doesn't do—these specialists can be involved in so many critical aspects of a child's health and development. In short, your pediatrician is the first person to call when your child is sick

Concentration

Pediatricians focus on the physical, emotional, and social health of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults up to age 21. Because they work with so many aspects of children's health, they're highly trained in assessing, detecting, preventing, and managing issues that affect children. This might involve anything from treating an ear infection to talking to parents about school or behavioral problems to seeing kids for well-child checkups or annual exams and giving them their vaccines.

Procedural Expertise

Here's a listing of just some of the procedures pediatricians are trained and authorized to perform:

•Administer vaccinations

•Treat dislocated shoulders or elbows

•Treat minor injuries

•Remove foreign bodies like splinters

•Splint broken bones

•Perform circumcisions

Subspecialties

There are many types of pediatricians. There are general pediatricians who practice primary care, taking care of the general needs of children, and there are others who specialize in certain areas, such as:

Adolescent Medicine

Adolescents face tremendous social and academic pressures, as well as potentially life-threatening illnesses, habits, and behaviors. Adolescent health specialists are trained to help teens and young adults between the ages of 11 and 21 with their complex physical, behavioral, and emotional health care needs—from physical exams and immunizations to reproductive and mental health care.

Pediatric Cardiology

If your pediatrician has a question about your child’s heart, he or she may refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart problems in children.

Child Abuse Pediatrics

These doctors have special training, experience, and skills in evaluating children who may be victims of some type of abuse or neglect. 

Pediatric Critical Care Medicine

A hospital-based pediatric critical care specialist is called on to provide the special care your child might need if he or she is in an unstable critical condition due to a serious illness or injury.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics

These specialists possess training and experience to consider the medical and psychosocial aspects of children’s and adolescents’ developmental and behavioral problems. These include learning disorders, habit disorders like tics, regulatory disorders like feeding problems or discipline difficulties, developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders, delayed development, and behavioral and developmental problems associated with the full range of pediatric chronic illnesses and disabling conditions.

Just because a doctor doesn’t ask about your child’s behavior, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention it. In fact, doctors can offer a wealth of information about mental health and behavioral issues. They can also provide referrals to appropriate community resources if your child could benefit from an evaluation with a developmental specialist, a mental health professional, or other service providers.

Pediatric Emergency Medicine

These specialists focus on the care of the acutely ill or injured child in an emergency department.

Pediatric Endocrinology

If your child has problems with growth, puberty, diabetes, or other disorders related to the hormones and the glands that produce them, he or she may be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist.

Pediatric Gastroenterology

These specialists care for children and adolescents who have digestive difficulties.

Pediatric Hematology-Oncology

If your child is affected with blood disorders and cancer they may see a pediatric hematologist-oncologist.

Pediatric Hospital Medicine

Pediatric hospitalists work primarily in a hospital. They care for children throughout the hospital, including the pediatric acute care areas, the newborn nursery, the emergency department, labor and delivery, and sometimes the neonatal or pediatric intensive care units.

Pediatric Infectious Diseases

These specialists evaluate and treat children with acquired or congenital disorders of the immune system, including those caused by bacteria, a fungus, a parasite, or other rare infection.

Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine

Premature and high-risk babies are often cared for by these specialists.

Pediatric Nephrology

These specialists care for children with various kidney diseases.

Pediatric Pulmonology

If your child has breathing or lung problems, he or she may see a pediatric pulmonologist.

Pediatric Rheumatology

These specialists care for children with autoimmune diseases, or diseases where the immune system attacks the healthy cells of the body. Rheumatic diseases including fevers, joint pains, rashes, and involvement of the internal organs.

Training and Certification

After graduating from medical school, pediatricians take special courses solely in pediatrics for three or more years. This is called residency. This training exposes them to the various clinical rotations in different pediatric sub-specialties, such as cardiology, endocrinology, emergency medicine, and adolescent medicine. 

After completing residency training, the pediatrician is eligible to take a written exam given by the American Board of Pediatrics. If you see the initials “FAAP” after a pediatrician’s name, it means she's passed her board exam and is now a full Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Only board-certified pediatricians can add the designation “FAAP” after their names, which means they have reached the highest status of membership in this professional organization.

Pediatricians who subspecialize must also meet the training requirements specific to each of those subspecialties.

To maintain their certification, pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists must also work to stay up to date with the most current medical knowledge over the course of time that they practice medicine.

Appointment Tips

Patient appointments may be just one small part of a pediatrician’s job, but they'll have a big impact on your life. Use these tips to make the visit go as smoothly as possible:

Schedule appointments for early morning or right after lunch. That's when doctors are most likely to be on time, so you'll spend less time waiting. If possible, avoid appointments on Mondays and Fridays, the busiest days in most offices. 

Bring your own toys. Many offices now have separate "sick" and "well" waiting rooms, but any toys are still likely covered in germs. Pack any other essentials as well—extra diapers, juice boxes, snacks, books. If you know the visit might prove stressful, for instance, your child will get a shot, remember to bring a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to help keep him or her calm.

Make the most of your visit. Doctors often have less than 10 minutes with patients, so ask about your most important issues first—"How can we get Sally to sleep through the night?" or "Why are Billy's temper tantrums worse than his siblings were?" Don't be shy about bringing up concerns—no question is too trivial or silly. Just ask them earlier rather than later to be sure you get the answers you need. If you think you'll need more time to discuss an issue, request an extra-long appointment.

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Article Sources

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  1. The American Board of Pediatrics. Subspecialty certifications & admission requirements.

  2. The American Board of Pediatrics. Adolescent medicine certification.

  3. Society for Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. What is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician? 

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics 101: A Resource Guide; 2011.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. FAAP designation.