What is a pediatric surgeon?
A pediatric surgeon is a pediatrician, who is specially trained to perform a variety of medical procedures on newborns, infants, and children. They are experts when it comes to the diagnosis and operative care of different health conditions in children. These specialists often work at children's hospitals. They perform different tests, examine children's medical records, and discuss treatment options with the children's parents or caregivers.
Medical conditions, injuries, illnesses, or disorders in children that require surgery may need the expertise of a pediatric surgeon for treatment. Pediatric surgeons also closely work with other healthcare providers when necessary to provide the best possible medical care for their young patients.
The surgical problems handled by pediatric surgeons tend to be very different from those who handle adult or general surgery.
Training and Qualification
A pediatric surgeon usually has the following training and qualifications:
- Four years of medical school
- Additional five years of general surgery
- Residency training for another two years in pediatric surgery
- Certification from the American Board of Surgery
Pediatric surgeons treat newborns up to late adolescence. The core of their medical practice is pediatric care with advanced surgical training in children.
Role of Pediatric Surgeons
Pediatric surgeons focus more on the diagnosis and management of children's surgical problems, which include preoperative, operative, and postoperative care.
There are medical conditions in newborns that need surgery for correction. These conditions must also be immediately identified by neonatologists and pediatricians, including family practitioners. Pediatric surgeons also work together with other specialists to help determine whether a child's best option for treatment or correction is surgery.
Pediatric surgeons also have expertise in the following areas:
- Neonatal - Involves the surgical repair of birth defects in newborns, whether they are born premature or full-term. Some of these congenital defects can also be life-threatening.
- Prenatal - Abnormalities during the fetal stage can be detected by pediatric surgeons with the help of radiologists using ultrasound and other imaging techniques. Pediatric surgeons can also plan corrective surgery ahead of time and educate the parents about their baby's condition before childbirth.
- Trauma - Traumatic injuries in children, which may or may not need surgery, are one of the critical care situations that pediatric surgeons routinely face. There are accident prevention programs in communities, in which pediatric surgeons are actively involved. These programs promote the prevention of traumatic injuries in infants and children.
- Pediatric Oncology - Pediatric surgeons are also trained in the diagnosis and operative care of children with cancer or malignant tumors as well as children with benign tumors.
Conditions Treated by Pediatric Surgeons
Pediatric surgeons are experts in performing general surgery for infants to children and to young adults. They help their young patients get better through proper diagnosis, surgical treatment, and extensive follow-up care. Below are some of the health conditions in children that can be managed and treated by pediatric surgeons:
- Congenital Health Problems: These health problems occur while a baby is still developing.
- Acquired Health Problems: Health problems that occur in children after birth.
- Appendicitis: This condition occurs when the appendix is inflamed or infected. Treatment for appendicitis usually involves the surgical removal of the appendix.
- Biliary Atresia: This childhood liver disease can either be congenital or acquired. It occurs when one or more bile ducts are absent, blocked, or abnormally narrow. Biliary atresia is usually diagnosed through a liver biopsy, ultrasound, and a nuclear medicine scan. There is a need for surgery to enable bile duct reconstruction and reattachment to the liver.
- Cancer: Pediatric surgeons also closely work with the pediatric oncologists when it comes to performing surgical procedures for different types of children's cancer.
- Neuroblastoma: A cancerous tumor that starts in the nerve tissues of babies and very young children. The tumor often starts in the adrenal gland tissues that are located in the abdomen, including nerve tissues in the spinal cord, chest, and neck. Surgery may be performed if the tumor has not metastasized to other areas of the body.
- Hepatoblastoma: This is a very rare type of cancer that starts in a child's liver. This disease mainly affects children from 0-3 years old. Although rare, hepatoblastoma cancer cells can also metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Its treatment usually involves the surgical removal of a part of the liver.
- Spleen Disorders: Involves spleen issues caused by blood disorders or injuries. When necessary, a splenectomy or the surgical removal of the spleen is performed.
- Wilms’ Tumor: Also called as nephroblastoma, is a type of cancer that usually begins in the kidneys. It is also the type of kidney cancer that is most commonly seen in children. Its treatment involves the surgical removal of the affected part of the kidney or the entire kidney itself.
- Congenital Cystic Adenomatoid Malformation (CCAM): CCAM is a congenital condition characterized by the formation of an abnormal lung tissue. This condition is usually diagnosed through an ultrasound. Pregnant women are closely monitored during their pregnancy. After giving birth, the abnormal lung tissue is removed.
- Tracheoesophageal Fistula and Esophageal Atresia: These conditions occur when the baby's trachea and esophagus fail to correctly form and connect during development. Treatment usually involves reconnecting the tubes and closing the fistula after the baby is born.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): This condition occurs when stomach acid travels up to the esophagus. Treatment for GERD includes tightening the end of the esophagus to prevent food and stomach acid from coming back up the esophagus.
- Gallbladder Problems: Gallbladder infections can be due to viruses or other causes. Treatment for gallbladder problems may include the surgical removal of the gallbladder through minimally invasive surgery or traditional surgery.
- Hernia: This condition occurs when a fatty tissue or organ pushes through a weak spot in the muscle or surrounding tissues. It usually develops between the hips and chest. In most cases, the condition causes little to no symptoms at all. However, a lump or swelling in the groin or stomach may be noticed, especially when straining or coughing. It is also one of the most common surgeries performed by pediatric surgeons on children.
- Hirschsprung’s Disease: This is a congenital condition caused by the absence of nerve cells in the muscles of an infant's colon. It affects a child's large intestine and causes difficulty when it comes to bowel movements. Its treatment involves the surgical removal of an enlarged part of the colon, which prevents the passing of stool.