What is pediatrics? It’s more than just runny noses.

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When I chose a career in pediatrics, everyone had something to say about my decision. While most of my friends and colleagues were supportive, there were more than a few that just couldn’t understand why I would sign up for a lifetime of “ear infections and runny noses.”

Even among other medical professionals, it’s not uncommon for pediatrics to be viewed as a less-than-serious specialty. Maybe it’s the sea horses on the walls. Or the bow ties. Or the fact that we really do see a lot of runny noses. And to be fair, most of our patients aren’t all that sick, and many of them would get better without us. We field a lot of questions about choosing car seats, potty training, and making babies sleep. We handle concerns about school performance and behavioral problems. We explain to new moms why those little red bumps on their baby are really nothing to worry about.

And most of the time, even when things are scary to parents, we don’t get worked up. For instance, children will frequently have seizures caused by a fever. These are terrifying to parents, but medically speaking, once we rule out the scary stuff, they’re usually not a big deal. Even a fever by itself can be scary to parents, although it’s almost always a non-issue. A huge part of a pediatrician’s job is sorting out the child with a potentially dangerous condition from the much larger volume of self-limited problems that will go away with time. Another crucial skill is the ability to explain to parents why they don’t need to worry — without downplaying their concerns.

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