It's all you-know-what and giggles. Well, not all. But being a pediatrician can be an enjoyable and satisfying career for doctors who like children. There are challenges, though. "Young children cannot talk to you like an adult," says Kevin Polsley, MD, pediatrician and pediatrics instructor at Loyola University Chicago. "They can't tell you where it hurts, or that they have a sore throat. So, it's important to be able to discover subtle findings on physical exams, and watch for non-verbal cues. It is a fun challenge to figure out and diagnose these young patients and help them feel better." Would-be pediatricians who succeed, adds Dr, Polsley, are good listeners, patient, and able to talk and play with kids. People who are impatient, uncomfortable around little tykes, and afraid of a little baby poop need not apply.
The number one benefit of being a pediatrician is being able to support both parent and child as they both evolve, says Glen Miya, MD, a pediatrician at Pomona, California-based Chaparral Medical Group. "When counseling children on proper nutrition, I recommend parents take their kids to the grocery store to allow them to choose foods that they want, under parental supervision," says Dr. Miya. He explains that children can be curious about a variety of foods, and parents become teachers in directing their children to the healthier snacks. "Sometimes, I can help parents and their child prevent battles at the dinner table with this strategy," he adds.
Pediatrics is for you if you enjoy talking to and playing with children, says Dr. Polsley. "Some of the visits I enjoy most are routine well visits when I can talk to a child, joke with him or her and find out what kinds of things they like. It can be entertaining to ask them questions just to see how they respond."
Working with teens is a great way to stay with it, or, up with the times, says Dr. Miya. "Teens are the conduit to the future, educating me on popular trends in music, comedy, work ethics, and computers. Just today, a 16 year-old social queen told me that I was ancient because e-mail is dead and Facebook is so old school." Now, he knows, thanks to his patient, "Instagram is everything," he says, with a laugh. It's also gratifying to support teens in developing their values, adds Dr. Miya, regarding sex, drugs, relationships, school and work at a time in their lives when sometimes they tend to shut out parental influences.
Working as a pediatrician gives you a way to help children (and their families) stay healthy and become well-adjusted adults, says Riley Minster, MD, who is a partner at Lake Shore Pediatrics and an instructor of clinical pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. "Watching kids grow up and develop into awesome adolescents can be rewarding," says Minster. "You get to play a role (if even a tiny bit) in helping turn a child into a happy, productive member of society. And when they return to me with their children, it's a double reward."
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."