Paediatrics is often mislabelled as an “easy” specialisation for doctors to choose, with the misconception that paediatricians’ jobs revolve around giving routine shots and treating the common cold. However, this could not be further from the truth. While it may be true that this speciality deals more often with more straightforward cases stemming from over concerned parents, paediatricians face the same amount of stress and demands as any other specialisation for many reasons.

Are you treating the child or the parent?

This is one of the most glaring consequences of being a paediatrician. Step into the treatment room of a paediatrician and you would be hearing the parent giving the symptoms of the child instead of the child themselves. And often this is unavoidable, whether you are treating a baby who can only babble, or a toddler too shy to even look at the doctor. Parents are commonly the main point of contact in getting information about the child. And so getting the right diagnosis is hard when either the child cannot find the words to describe it, or the parents are giving second hand information. There is no way to accurately determine how the child is feeling, and this is a big problem in diagnosis and prognosis.

Dealing with cyberchondriac parents

Another common occurrence is dealing with ‘educated’ parents. This term is used very loosely- as though they may have the information, they may not have the discernment to make sense of it. With a sick child, it is not uncommon for parents to do a quick search online on their child’s symptoms and self-diagnose according to whatever information they get before going to the doctors, and end up misrepresenting the child’s symptoms to the doctor. This is especially dangerous for children who are too shy or unable to describe to the doctor their actual symptoms.

Parents who go even further to ’educate’ themselves may even read up on certain drugs and treatments for their children on forums and websites. And while these forums may often have ulterior motives, a lay person may not be able to discern against them. Often this leads to conflicts between doctors and parents in the prognosis of the child, with parents questioning the professional judgement of the doctor. While this stems ultimately from their love and concern over their child, it is likely to impede treatment should parents ultimately decide against certain forms of treatment or drugs.

How to overcome challenges

While these challenges are big factors in the job of paediatricians, there are many ways to overcome them. Some say the skill of doctors treating patients come as much from understanding and relating to patients as it does treating them. This is no different from paediatricians, while you may not be interacting with the child yourself, it is equally important to build rapport with the child and the parent.

As the main decision maker for their young children, it is key for parents to understand and trust your professional judgement. Hence, forming that relationship is very important. Another key skill is discernment, where if children are often unable to or are too quiet about their illnesses, doctors must be sharp enough to detect these discomforts and symptoms presented in any form, whether verbally explained, or in body language and response to stimuli. While daunting at first, this is definitely crucial for a paediatrician. MIMS

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