Simply put, a pediatric surgeon is a surgeon who specializes in operating on children and adolescents. Surgery in children is largely the same as it is in adults, but children have some different issues that need to be addressed to limit risks and maximize the chances of a successful outcome.
The path to become a pediatric surgeon is long and difficult. First, you must get in to medical school. This is not a simple process and can often take many years. Once in medical school, a potential pediatric surgeon faces four years of hard work and exams. Medical school is not where you learn to be a surgeon. That step comes during residency, which is the training that takes place after graduating. For more information on how to become a pediatrician, see THIS article.
To become a pediatric surgeon, you must start with a general surgery residency. This means that you will be learning and training by doing surgery on adults. This residency can take up to six years, and is exhausting. Once you have finished with this phase, you can move on to dealing with children. A pediatric surgical fellowship will allow you to deal exclusively with children in a surgical setting.
Performing surgery on children is often very different than dealing with adults. Many of the medical issues that are the reason for the surgery are quite different. Pediatric surgeons deal with treating many congenital abnormailities (e.g. cleft palates, and other birth defects). Of course, they also deal with common medical issues, such as (unfortunately) cancer, repairing broken bones, burns, etc.
Children themselves are very different to treat compared to adults. Although no adult enjoys surgery, children are particularly vulnerable and emotionally hard to deal with as patients. They often have a hard time understanding what is going on around them, and face a large degree of anxiety because of this. Parents, who are naturally very protective, can become something of a “second patient” – which is perfectly natural and expected. Pediatric surgeons have to be very good at negotiating with sick children and nervous parents – a dangerous combination for sure!
Pediatric surgeons can even specialize further, focusing on a particular organ system. There are pediatric neurosurgeons for example. These doctors specialize in doing brain surgery on children. Needless to say, this can be extremely difficult and consequently there are very few specialists of this type in practice around the country.
Pediatric surgeons are a different breed of doctor. They are highly trained and very dedicated to their work. The path to become on is not easy – but it can be highly rewarding and allows a person to help some of the most vulnerable in our society.