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Pediatrics (also spelled paediatrics or pædiatrics) is the branch of medicine that deals with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents (from newborn to age 18 or 19). The word pediatrics is derived from two Greek]] words paidi (παιδί) which means "boy" and iatros (ιατρός) which means "doctor". Most pediatricians are members of a national body, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons, the Royal College Of Paediatrics and Child Health, Norsk barnelegeforening (The Norwegian society of pediatricians) or the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

Pediatric polysomnography patient
Children's Hospital (Saint Louis), 2006

Pediatrics differs from adult medicine in many respects. The obvious body size differences are paralleled by maturational changes. The smaller body of an infant or neonate is substantially different physiologically from that of an adult. Congenital defects, genetic variance, immunology, oncology, and a host of other issues are unique to the realm of pediatrics. Increasingly effective health care also means that diseases such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are more often treated by pediatricians, though many or most patients grow into adulthood. Issues revolving around infectious diseases and immunizations are also dealt with primarily by pediatricians.

Pediatrics is also a springboard for any specialty of general medicine, each with its own unique aspects. Pediatric cardiologists deal with heart conditions in children, particularly congenital heart defects, pediatric oncologists often treat leukemias and lymphomas. Every subspecialty of the adult doctor exists in the pediatric field (with the exception of geriatrics), but some are unique to pediatrics, such as adolescent medicine, sports medicine, and neonatology.

Adulthood is the period of greatest growth, development and maturation of the various organ systems in the body. Years of training and experience (above and beyond basic medical training) goes into recognizing the difference between normal variants and what is actually pathological.

Another major difference between pediatrics and adult medicine is that children are minors and, in most jurisdictions, cannot make decisions for themselves. The issue of guardianship, legal responsibility and informed consent must always be considered in every pediatric procedure. In a sense, pediatricians often have to treat the parents and sometimes, the family, rather than just the child. Adolescents are in their own legal class, having rights to their own health care decisions in certain circumstances only, though this is in legal flux and varies by region.

In the U.S., pediatricians are considered to be primary care doctors, along with family practice, internal medicine, and obstetrics. Much of the rest of the world considers them specialists, and parents are only referred to pediatricians for special care not handled by the generalists.

Abraham Jacobi is considered the father of pediatrics.


The educational requirements for a pediatrician within the United States generally starts with graduating from a four year college. Then one goes to medical school for four more years. After completion of medical school, one does a residency in pediatrics for an additional three years. The pediatrician may then elect to pass a certification examination to be Board Certified in pediatrics. To specialize within pediatrics, one must complete an additional three year fellowship within their desired subspecialty. The pediatrician may then elect to pass another examination to be Board Certified in that pediatric subspeciality. Some certified pediatric subspecialities in the United States are pulmonology, cardiology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, nephrology, neonatology, critical care, and emergency medicine.

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