Anesthesiology is one of the highest-paying medical specialties a doctor can choose. Within that specialty, you will find several possible subspecialties – one of the most rewarding of which is pediatric anesthesiology. Both general anesthesiologists and pediatric anesthesiologists focus on administering the medications used to numb pain or induce loss of consciousness for surgical and diagnostic procedures and other medical situations. The difference is that pediatric anesthesiologists work primarily or exclusively with children.
A Focus on Child Patients
Pediatric anesthesiologists may administer anesthesia to children of all ages – babies, toddlers, little kids, big kids and even teenagers. Generally, a pediatric anesthesiologist will work with patients as young as newborns and as old as 21, the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Omaha reported.
In the whirlwind of an emergency surgery on a child, like an appendectomy in young patients that develop appendicitis or surgery for intestinal obstruction in infants, having an anesthesiologist able to quickly and confidently administer the right variety and amount of anesthesia is essential. Anesthesia is also used for non-emergent planned or elective surgeries, such as inguinal hernia repair, cleft lip repair and cataract extraction, according to the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology.
Some non-emergent surgeries must be completed early in a child’s life to minimize the effects of a medical condition on normal development, including feeding, speaking and toilet training.
Anatomical, Pharmacological and Behavioral Differences Between Children and Adults
Children aren’t just adults in miniature form. Anatomically and physiologically, children’s bodies are different from those of adults, because they are still developing. The dynamics of how children’s bodies process medications like anesthesia, analgesia and sedatives mean that anesthesiologists can’t always determine dosages by dividing the amount of medicine they would give to an adult by the child’s weight.
Factors like an increased rate of oxygen desaturation make pediatric patients, particularly infants, more prone to the risks of anesthesia during surgery, the American Society of Anesthesiologists reported. Although general anesthesiologists may administer anesthesia to pediatric patients, the reality is that these significant differences mean that most anesthesiologists aren’t comfortable doing so without additional training in the subspecialty of pediatric anesthesiology.
Pediatric patients also differ from adult patients in a behavioral sense. For one thing, the youngest patients a pediatric anesthesiologist sees aren’t able to communicate verbally or follow directions. Even children who are able to communicate by speech may not have the level of vocabulary needed to express clearly to an anesthesiologist what an adult can. Additionally, children may be particularly afraid of undergoing a surgery or procedure. Having interpersonal skills that allow you to relate to, reassure and rapidly build rapport with child patients and their families is crucial in being a good pediatric anesthesiologist, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even the equipment and systems used to administer anesthesia for pediatric patients may be different than what is used in adult patients.
Preparing for a Career in Pediatric Anesthesiology
Because pediatric anesthesiologists treat such a wide range of ages and developmental stages, they need extensive training to excel in this specialty. Administering anesthesia to a newborn is quite different than administering it to a 19-year-old, but in this medical specialty, you must have the skills to treat both of these patients.
Training to become a pediatric anesthesiologist takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Most medical specialties require three to four years of residency training after medical school, according to the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Pediatric anesthesiologists, on the other hand, spend a minimum of five years, and as long as nine years, completing their internship, residency and fellowship training. Often, aspiring pediatric anesthesiologists combine an internship in either pediatrics or anesthesiology with a residency in the alternative path, followed by their specialized pediatric anesthesiology fellowship. To qualify for certification in pediatric anesthesiology in five years, you may need to get accepted to a residency program that has attained special approval from both the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Anesthesiology.
Some doctors are true experts in both areas of medicine. They develop this proficiency by completing two separate residencies in pediatrics and anesthesiology before moving on to their fellowship training in pediatric anesthesiology and pediatric critical care.
You may not start medical school with a career as a pediatric anesthesiologist in mind. Many pediatric anesthesiologists realize, through their studies and clinical rotation experiences, that the fields of anesthesiology and pediatrics appeal to them.