What is a Pediatrician? Sub-specialties of Pediatric Care

LAST MODIFIED: Thursday, April 25, 2019
Mother and baby girl visiting pediatrician

Few things are more important to parents than their children’s health, so finding a good pediatrician is often a high priority for parents.

Pediatric care is a diverse field with numerous sub-specialties from which to choose; general practitioners or even other pediatricians might refer parents to any one of these sub-specialties depending on the circumstances.


What is a Pediatrician?

Pediatric care is the area of medicine concerned with caring for children between the ages of 0 and 18. Since children’s bodies are so different from adults’ bodies, pediatricians have different challenges and obstacles to overcome.

Pediatricians often not only care for critically or mildly ill children but also advise parents about how to keep children healthy.

Such doctors often treat children for things like childhood diseases, injuries, organ diseases, and cancers; they also often watch for signs of developing mental and behavioral difficulties or disabilities.


Subspecialities of Pediatrics

Adolescent Medicine

Focuses on tending to the needs of adolescents such as treating puberty disorders, reproductive care, and STDs. This sub-specialty also emphasizes mental healthcare for mental disorders that first show their symptoms during puberty.

Adolescent pediatricians may also help those with preexisting health disorders deal with puberty in addition to their other health challenges.


Child Abuse Pediatrics

Deals with children and adolescents who have been victims of child abuse in some form. Whether a child has been abused physically, emotionally, or sexually, child abuse pediatricians will be there to help the child deal with these various traumas.

These pediatricians often work in conjunction with law enforcement and the court system due to the legal nature of their work.


Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Often focuses on the research of child and adolescent development and behavior, but these pediatricians do not just research these problems.

They evaluate and monitor children for signs of developmental and behavioral problems and then treat the children accordingly. Their skills lie primarily in evaluation and research, but they can help children in terms of development and behavior as well.



Focuses on the treatment of ill or handicapped premature or newborn babies. These pediatricians may begin their treatments while the fetus is still in the womb and will also make any necessary pre-birth preparations.

They also assist with high-risk births and may perform necessary surgeries on newborn babies.


Pediatric Allergy and Immunology

Covers a wide variety of career specialties because there are so many different things to which children can be allergic. These pediatricians treat kids with various respiratory, food, animal, and plant allergies as well as children with immunodeficiency.

They may also help children whose bodies reject organ and marrow donations.


Pediatric Cardiology

Deals with many issues and problems regarding children’s hearts and heart functions. Those who practice this sub-specialty of pediatrics deal with issues like congenital heart defects, hypertension, heart rhythm problems, and cardiovascular disorders.

These pediatricians may treat their patients through adolescence and into adulthood.


Pediatric Critical Care Centers

As the name implies, around children who are critically ill and who may need around-the-clock care.

Also referred to as intensivists, these pediatricians care for children going through such traumas as septic shock, cardiac failure, traumatic injury, and organ transplantation.


Pediatric Dermatology

Focuses on treating the skin disorders of children and adolescents. Skin infections and disorders, birthmarks, acne, and dermatitis are all things that might be treated by a pediatric dermatologist.

They may also conduct relatively minor surgical procedures such as cutaneous surgery and laser therapy.


Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Is a broad umbrella that covers a wide range of child emergencies dealt with in an emergency setting. These pediatricians are often gifted in a variety of areas, especially those dealing with physical trauma and serious illness.

They are also often involved in the education of others in the healthcare system due to their range of expertise.


Pediatric Endocrinology

Addresses hormonal and metabolic disorders in children. These types of pediatricians will help children who have thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal gland disorders as well as diabetes, growth abnormalities, and hypoglycemia.

They may also deal with children who have sexual development issues and mineral disturbances.


Pediatric Gastroenterology

Is a large field as it has to do with digestive health in children. Pediatricians in this field deal with everything from nutritional disorders to gastrointestinal bleeding to liver failure.

They often collaborate with other pediatricians due to the intertwined nature of the gastrointestinal system with the other areas of the body.


Pediatric Hematology

Focuses on helping children with various non-cancerous blood deficiencies and disorders. Anemia, neutropenia, and ITP are all problems pediatric hematologists are likely to treat.

They are sometimes linked with oncologists, who deal with children who have various cancers.


Pediatric Infectious Disease

Can often be a field more devoted to researching and preventing the occurrence of infectious diseases in children than offering treatment.

While infectious disease pediatricians may engage primarily in research or administration, they can also be good at finding explanations for specific unexplained or atypical child illness cases.

Doctor Examining Young Girl in Hospital

Pediatric Nephrology

Emphasizes the study and treatment of children who have kidney problems. Whether these children have transient kidney problems from kidney injury or chronic kidney problems, pediatric nephrologists will help children via dialysis, kidney transplants, and relationships.

These pediatricians often have long-lasting relationships with their kidney transplant patients due to the necessity of making sure the new kidney is properly functioning.


Pediatric Neurology

Centers primarily around taking care of children with brain and spinal cord disorders such as cerebral palsy and degenerative disorders. Children with migraines, epilepsy, developmental delay, and metabolic disorders may also receive treatment from a pediatric neurologist.

There is currently a need for about 20% more pediatric neurologists than there are today.


Pediatric Neuropsychology

Deals with the relationship between a healthy brain and child behavior, so there is some obvious overlap with neurology and other pediatric sub-specialties.

Neuropsychologists help children with traumatic brain injuries and brain tumors as well as children with ADHD, autism, and other mental disorders.


Pediatric Oncology

Focuses on treating children who have cancer. Leukemia and lymphoma are the most common types of cancers pediatric oncologists have to treat since children do not generally struggle with as wide a variety of cancers as adults.

They traditionally treat cancer with radiation or surgery rather than chemotherapy.


Pediatric Ophthalmology

Is the study and treatment of children’s eye disorders—especially the more difficult ones. Misaligned and unfocused eyes are frequent problems treated by many pediatric ophthalmologists, as are eye and ocular diseases like cataracts and glaucoma.

They can also prescribe glasses and contacts for their child patients.


Pediatric Psychiatry

Deals with various behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders that negatively impact children and their families. They evaluate children’s behavior and then prescribe psychotherapy, medication, or some combination of the two.

These psychiatrists may also decide that bringing in other specialists or health care professionals is in the children’s best interests.


Pediatric Pulmonology

Is a field dedicated to the treatment of respiration problems in children. Asthma, sleep apnea, pneumonia, and lung disease are all problems that will likely fall to the pediatric pulmonologist to treat.

They may administer sleep tests as well as bronchial and mucosal biopsies while attempting to figure out problems with the children in their care.


Pediatric Rheumatology

Centers around treating serious, complex disorders like lupus, scleroderma, and juvenile arthritis. Rheumatologists often work in academic settings but may also work with hospitalized children.

These disorders often require long-term care, so pediatric rheumatologists often build lasting relationships with their patients.


Pediatric Respirology

Is a term largely used in Canada for pediatric pulmonology. Like their pulmonologist counterparts, pediatric respirologists treat children with various respiration problems relating to lung disease and breathing issues.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis, and sleep disorders that disrupt sleeping are problems that pediatric respirologists will likely address in their juvenile patients.


Social Pediatrics

Social pediatrics (or paediatrics, one could say, given its origins) is a European approach to pediatrics that focuses on a child’s health within the larger overall picture of his or her family, environment, and society.

There is significant overlap with other pediatric subspecialties, but the primary differences here lie in the treatment styles and emphases rather than on the treatments themselves.

Social pediatrics focuses on 4 important stages in a child’s health: curing current problems, promoting a healthy lifestyle, preventing the contraction of new diseases, and rehabilitating children from problems they have had.


The Need for Research into Children’s Healthcare

While doctors and researchers have learned much about pediatrics, so much more remains to be discovered.

Research in the area of immunization, for example, has revolutionized child healthcare in terms of no longer having to treat childhood diseases that used to be normal parts of early development.

More can be improved in the field of pediatrics, however; numerous children still die of various cancers and diseases.

Research is also being done in more administrative areas like electronic record-keeping and medical training. Improvement in even a few areas could save thousands of children’s lives, highlighting the need for further research into children’s healthcare.