What is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician?

For years, I have contended that all doctors and more so all specialists are not cut from the same cloth. I believe it’s more than simply how one practices; it is about ones’ motivations and convictions. To better understand the working relationship we have with our colleagues, we need to better understand how they think, what they value, and what motivates them. I chose to investigate this first with Pediatricians.

What is unique to the (personality of the) specialty? Why do our pediatricians in particular desire such close communication about the children in their practice? Why are parents disappointed and even angry at their pediatricians when they don’t hear from their doctor first after an ED visit or admission of their child? Why are those follow up fax reports and phone calls so vital to them?<!–more

Rather than solely share my own, perhaps somewhat biased opinions to these questions, I chose to informally interview 6 community pediatricians and posed these simple questions. I inquired of the reasons they chose pediatrics in the first place. Was there a common link, drive, and motivation? I hoped I could learn and succinctly share the answers to the question, “What IS a Pediatrician?” Here’s what I discovered.

The one common link for why each chose this specialty was the challenges and joy of caring for children. In no other field of medicine does one see such dramatic physical, emotional and intellectual development in all their patients.

The pediatricians with whom I spoke all continue to find huge job satisfaction and pleasure in this. Each agreed that children are our greatest, most precious resource. “We worry more,” said one. “We can’t afford to be wrong when we treat a (potentially very) sick child,” said another. “It is not an issue of being concerned about malpractice. It simply has to do with wanting to do right for every child”, said a third. All agreed, it is the very young and the very fact they are unable to verbally express their feelings and symptoms, who pose the greatest challenge. “Sure, there are some nursing home patients who also can’t be assessed for these same reasons. Still the difference is in the expectation for their outcome, compared to that of a baby.”

“We care for the child, but never in isolation to the family unit. Often it is the parents we are treating.” Parents look to us for guidance, reassurance, and we view we are in partnership with them when we make a care plan for their children.

So how does all this add up? To better appreciate our pediatrician colleagues, we need to understand their practices are built on establishing these (long standing) relationships with their patients and families. They deal nearly every day with new, young, worried parents. What about the seemingly overanxious, hysterical mother who brings her child to the ED for what we perceive to be a minor concern? The pediatrician, who has a clear bond with the mother may be aware that her fears are related to a remote history of a family illness or tragedy. A simple phone call to the pediatrician and conversation she can have with the mother may allay all the mother’s worries. Simply, appreciate the parent-pediatrician bond, if possible fax them all ED reports, and when appropriate contact the pediatrician at the time of the child’s ED visit.