This article explains the complex role of the paediatrician in looking after children of all ages, how you can access a paediatrician for your child and some tips to keep your child healthy.
What is a paediatrician?
A paediatrician is a medical doctor who specialises in looking after children – babies, infants, children or adolescents.
A paediatrician first trains as a medical doctor and then undertakes additional years of university and clinical study to specialise in looking after children. The field requires intense training as many issues with children are vastly different to those of adults –
- Their organs are a different size
- Children grow quickly
- Congenital problems (arising from the development of the fetus) in children can give complex symptoms.
There are many congenital and childhood developmental issues covered by paediatricians who are trained to take care of both children and their parents.
Within the field of paediatrics, doctors can specialise in:
- Cardiology – looking after children with heart and related problems
- Oncology – looking after children with cancer
- Neonates – looking after newborn babies or neonates
- Surgery – specialising in operating on children
- Emergency Medicine – specialising in treating accidents and emergency in children
- Rehabilitation – helping children recover from accidents and congenital problems
- Psychiatry – doctors who look after mental health issues in children and adolescents
When should my child see a paediatrician?
Many issues could result in a referral from your general practitioner to a specialist child doctor. These may include:
- Congenital problems (for instance, heart defects your child might have been born with)
- Immune problems
- Developmental problems – failure to grow or obtain normal childhood milestones
- Serious problems such as leukaemia
- Problems with bones and joints
- Problems with learning
- Blood disorders
- Problems with kidneys, lungs, the digestive system
- Feeding issues
- Behavioural issues
Whenever your child seems to be having a complex problem that a general practitioner feels they cannot handle, they are likely to refer you to a paediatrician working at either a local hospital or in private practice.
How do I find a paediatrician?
In general your general practitioner will recommend you to a hospital or private paediatrician. A friend or relative may recommend a particular paediatrician – if so discuss this with your GP.
A private consultation with a paediatrician would cost approximately $150-$200. However, if you are a New Zealand resident and you are seen within the public health system there will be no charge, though you may wait longer for the initial appointment if it is not urgent.
What will the paediatrician do?
Like other medical doctors, the paediatrician will take a history of your child’s life, do a physical examination, order any diagnostic tests that may be needed and determine a course of treatment.
They will monitor your child’s development, how well the treatment is working for your child and work with other health practitioners or groups in the community when necessary – to assist you and your child.
A necessary part of their work can involve detecting and reporting on suspected cases of child abuse and ensuring the child receives the best possible care and home circumstances, so this can be prevented in the future.
The all-round nature of their work means paediatricians need to be caring, good at relating with children and their parents and have a deep understanding of normal growth and development in children.
What can I do to help my child?
- Trust your intuition – if you feel something is not right with your baby or child and want them to be checked by an expert, be insistent you receive this help
- Do not wait if you feel your child has a problem – the earlier you seek help the easier the problem may be alleviated
- If you are taking your child to see a paediatrician be sure to share as much information as possible with them, to enable them to help you make the best decisions for your child.
Useful websites & articles:
To read about Allergies and how these may affect your child click here.
www.paediatrics.org.nz– The official website for the Paediatric Society of New Zealand
www.mcnz.org.nz– This link to the Medical Council of New Zealand has a register to help you find a doctor of the speciality you are looking for, across New Zealand.