What is an Adolescent Specialist?


The youth of today are an ever changing enigma. Diseases and issues that parents faced growing up are very different from what their children are facing today. Issues such as bullying, drug use, and depression are more prevalent in today’s society. There has also been an increase in incidents of self-harming in the last few years. Often, adolescents are stuck in the middle. They feel they are too old to see a pediatrician, but they also are not mini adults. They may feel uncomfortable seeing a general practitioner. Adolescent specialists are able to treat children of this age specifically.


Adolescent Specialists are doctors that have been specifically trained to treat children from approximately thirteen years old to young adults of twenty-one. Doctors that choose to specialize in adolescent medicine can come from any of a variety of specialties. They are trained in their chosen specialty and then go on to gain additional training. The additional training they receive is in a variety of areas. They must be able to deal with the issues that their patients face, so it is common for them to spend time learning in areas such as sports medicine, orthopedics, gynecology, dermatology, substance abuse counseling, and psychiatry.


What conditions does an Adolescent Specialist treat?


While an adolescent specialist is a trained medical doctor and can treat problems as a general practitioner, and they are also specially trained to treat issues faced by those that are considered adolescents. Some of these issues include:




The bane of seemingly every teenager’s existence, acne can be a true issue for some teens as can other skin conditions. Adolescent specialists are better able to determine the cause of acne and work in conjunction with a dermatologist to treat it. Normally, this treatment will consist of a regimented skin care routine with the addition of medication or medicated crème.


Nutritional Issues


Many of today’s youths are multitaskers. They don’t want to take the time to eat, and often snack rather than eat healthy meals. Many teenagers can be found in front of a computer or game system with junk food nearby. This mentality of snacking has helped to contribute to a high rate of obesity in today’s youth.


Obesity is not only a social problem. It can also result in serious health issues for adolescents. More and more children and teens are being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Those trained to work with adolescents are trained to recognize when elevated blood sugar is becoming a concern. Often, adolescent specialists can work with parents and the child to reverse a pre-diabetic state. Through proper nutrition and an exercise plan, the development of diabetes may be prevented.


There are also other eating disorders that teens are more susceptible to developing. Bullying and self-esteem issues lead some teens to become overly critical of their appearance. This can lead to disorders such as anorexia or bulimia as the teen tries to improve how others see him or her. These conditions can start out as innocent dieting, but can escalate quickly. Adolescent specialists can help parents to recognize the symptoms of eating disorders and help them prevent them.


Adolescent Specialists can also help children find an exercise routine that works for them. Adolescents and teens that develop good exercise habits are more likely to carry those into adulthood. Developing healthy eating and exercise habits can also help adolescents to deal with other issues that they face such as stress and anxiety. It gives them an outlet for this, so that they do not turn to substance abuse for relief.




Children and teens often need physicals for a variety of reasons. While parents may think that a physical is a physical, different types of physicals have different areas of focus. For example, sports physicals are meant to evaluate whether or not a child is physically capable of performing tasks such as running. Special instructions may be given to the patient if they are afflicted with a chronic illness such as asthma. The demands of driving a car are different than running down a soccer field, so the exam for the driver’s test is more of a general health physical.




The bones of children and teens are still growing and developing. Therefore, adolescent specialists have a working knowledge of orthopedics. This allows them to treat patients that have been injured as a result of sports or other activities. They are trained to deal with minor injuries and are more informed as to when an actual orthopedist is needed.


Adolescent specialists are also able to recognize and help treat chronic conditions as well. One common condition that affects children as they grow and develop is scoliosis. When caught before skeletal maturity is reached, treatments can help lessen the effects of the disorder.


Attention Problems


Many children today suffer from some form of Attention Deficit Disorder. Some may simply have trouble focusing and are often caught “daydreaming”. Others suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Children that suffer from ADHD not only have trouble focusing; they also often feel as if they need to constantly be moving. Both of these disorders may cause problems at home and at school, even for students that previously had their disorder under control.


Adolescent specialists are trained in adolescent psychiatry. This allows them to initially diagnose and begin treating disorders such as ADD and ADHD. Treatments may be as simple as changes to a child’s diet. In more severe cases, the addition of medicine may be needed. The doctor will work with the child and the parents to determine the best treatment for the child’s success.

They are also knowledgeable in the hormonal changes that children of this age encounter. As children go through puberty and adolescence, hormonal changes often affect how their bodies react to different medications. Adolescent specialists are able to recognize this and make any necessary adjustments to medicines or treatment plans.


Learning Problems


Adolescent specialists are also qualified to work in the school system in order to assist in the diagnosis of learning disorders. Children can experience problems with a variety of areas related to learning. There may be a subject-specific deficiency, or there may be a processing problem at play.


With the help of an adolescent specialist, parents can approach the school and determine a treatment plan for their child. Treatments could include modified classes, extra support while remaining in the traditional classroom setting, or even the addition of a medicinal treatment. The doctor will help parents determine what works best for the patient.


Growth and Development Issues


During adolescence, children go through a myriad of changes. Adolescent specialists are trained to help children deal with the changes that are occurring both physically and mentally. This period of life often comes with periods of weight gain and then periods of rapid growth. Some may even experience growing pains or problems as they reach this stage of life.


Reproductive Health


Along with age comes puberty. This is the age where boys encounter physical changes and girls often experience their first menstrual cycle. While parents and other trusted adults often help children deal with issues that arise during this time, it is also important for children to get regular check-ups as well. This is especially true if a child enters into puberty at an earlier than normal age.


Family Planning


Adolescent specialists are also qualified to help teens from thirteen and up with family planning issues that arise. Among these services are sexual health education, contraceptive counseling and options, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnancy testing and options counseling is also available.


Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use


The stress and expectations that are faced by youth today can be demanding. More and more, teens are turning to harmful habits to help them deal with this. Adolescent specialists are trained in prevention and counseling for substance abuse.


Psychosocial Issues

Adolescents today are under a great deal of pressure. There is a high rate of them developing stress and anxiety related disorders. Depression is also a concern. Adolescent specialists are trained to provide counseling to children that are experiencing related symptoms. Adolescence is also the period of life when issues such as self harming come to light. Self harming is defined as intentionally hurting oneself without the intention of committing suicide. This destructive behavior is often a symptom of more serious problem, such as depression or anxiety issues.


It is important for parents to be aware of symptoms to watch for. If children begin to show signs of decreasing self-esteem, experience sleep problems, suddenly stop socializing with friends, or begin to develop severe mood swings, then parents need to consult their child’s doctor. Adolescent specialists are able to help identify illnesses such as depression and offer options for treatment and management.


Adolescent specialists are also trained to help those that are dealing with identity issues. This period in a young person’s life is often when gender and sexual identity are cemented. Encouraging a child to talk to their doctor about such issues can help to prevent and psychosocial issues that may develop as a result of struggling with this.


Overall Health


Those trained as adolescent specialists are also trained as general practitioners. This makes them aptly qualified to treat all chronic and acute illnesses that this age group may encounter. It is important that parents have their adolescents see the doctor on a regular basis for healthy check-ups as well.


Chronic Illnesses


Chronic illness is a term used to describe conditions that are not likely to be cured. One common chronic condition is asthma. Other chronic illnesses that are present in adolescents include diabetes, cancer, and juvenile arthritis. Adolescent specialists are trained to diagnosis, decide on treatment, and help patients to manage their illness or condition. 




Adolescent Specialists are medical professionals that undergo 11 to 15 years of training. They begin with a bachelor’s degree. Normally this is a pre-med program to ensure that candidates are taking the correct math and science courses for their chosen profession.


Once a bachelor’s degree has been earned, candidates are required to take the MCAT test. This is a test that takes approximately five hours to complete. It tests candidates’ knowledge of medical-related sciences and math. It also tests reasoning and writing skills. All of the skills tested are necessary for candidates to be successful in medical school and beyond. 


With a bachelor’s degree and a passing MCAT score in hand, a candidate then enters medical school. There they will spend the first two years in classrooms and laboratories working on the “book” knowledge they will need. During this time, they will also take the first of their licensing exams.


The remaining years of medical school are spent actually working with patients under the guidance of a licensed doctor. It is during their final year of medical school, that candidates will take the remaining examinations and be placed into a residency program. An average of three to five years is spent in a residency program, depending on the specialty selected.


After their specialty residency, those wishing to become an adolescent specialist will then go onto receive additional training. They will work with doctors in a variety of specialties to better understand the adolescent.




There are several career options for those that choose to become adolescent specialists. Hospitals, particularly children’s hospitals and university medical centers, are always looking for those that are most qualified to work with their population. In addition, those that have specialized in working with adolescents can also look for work in juvenile detention facilities or schools, particularly college health centers. They also always have the option of opening a private practice as well.


Another possible career avenue for adolescent specialists is working in a pediatric emergency room. More and more, the medical community is recognizing that children are not just miniature adults. They are a different age group with a very different set of needs. Many hospitals are now incorporating a pediatric-geared emergency room and/or urgent care center. These institutions are more aesthetically geared toward children as is the care they provide. They are staffed with pediatricians and adolescent specialists. They also recognize that children are affected by radiation differently than adults. Therefore, they are equipping these care centers with more child friendly x-ray and CT machines. They use a lower amount of radiation and are safer for children. These institutions commonly employ a social worker. This individual helps the children to understand what is happening and helps the family cope. They are also on hand in case a less than favorable diagnosis is being given that may require family counseling.




The annual salary of an adolescent specialist varies by the amount of education and the geographical region in which the doctor practices. The national mean for an adolescent specialist is $167,000.


Professional Organizations


Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine


The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, SAHM, was founded in 1968 by doctors from the United States and Canada. The organization was formed with several goals in mind. First and foremost, they wanted to improve the quality of care that was available to adolescents. They also wanted to promote increased research into the age group. The research was focused on defining normal growth and development as well as researching diseases and conditions that are more likely to affect adolescents. Finally, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine is dedicated to providing better training for those that wish to specialize in working with adolescents.


North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology


The North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology (NASPAG) was formed in 1986. The organization is dedicated to providing education, research, and clinical care in the field of pediatric and adolescent gynecology. They also encourage research in the field, particularly studies that are multidisciplinary. Finally, the NASPAG advocates for the well-being of children.


International Association of Adolescent Health


The International Association of Adolescent Health was formed in 1987. The goals of the IAAH include fostering an understanding of the importance of youth health across the world. They support the development of national organizations dedicated to the health of adolescents as well as encourage collaborations focused on youth health issues. They also advocate for research and policy changes that improve knowledge and quality of care within the field of youth health.


American Academy of Pediatrics


The American Academy of Pediatrics was established in 1930 to address the health needs of children. There was an emerging idea at the time that children have unique health needs. The purpose of the American Academy of Pediatrics is to support those that treat infants, children, adolescents, and young adults so that patients receive the best care.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry


The term adolescence was first coined in 1904. It wasn’t until then that it was recognized that children between the ages of ten and twenty have unique health issues. The goal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is the promotion of healthy child development. This goal is met through the use of advocacy, education, and support of professionals.


Professional Publications


Journal of Adolescent Health


The Journal of Adolescent Health is the official journal of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. It is a peer reviewed journal that accepts research articles that focus on acute and chronic illnesses that affect children ages eleven through twenty-one. The journal editors have also included a section for parents and teens. The section includes plain language summaries of the research articles with links to the articles.


Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology


The Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology is the professional journal associated with the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. The journal includes research studies, research reviews, literature reviews, and letters to the editor. Its focus audience is primarily those that work with children and adolescents, but it can be a valuable resource to general practitioners and gynecologists as well.


Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews


Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews is a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It contains clinical reviews of advances in the diagnosis and treatment of health problems that affect adolescents.


Adolescent Specialist vs. General Practitioner




Adolescent specialists and general practitioners are both well educated professionals. They both are required to have about the same amount of education and become licensed in the state in which they wish to practice. Both specialties are able to provide wellness check-ups and immunizations for children of all ages. They are also able to diagnosis and treat various types of illnesses. Careers for both specialties are varied as well. Either can work in a hospital/ institutional setting or have a private practice.


Similar skill sets are needed for both specialties as well. They must be able to empathize as well as be detail oriented and well organized. Doctors as a whole must be physically and mentally capable of working long hours and working with a variety of patients. They both also possess a wide knowledge base so that they are able to treat a variety of conditions that could be encountered.


According to physician recruiting firms, both specialties are also in high demand. They both fall within the top twenty percent of specialties that are in demand.




Adolescent specialists have a narrower focus of working with a specific age group. General practitioners work with a wider variety of ages and therefore are able to treat a wider variety of illnesses. General practitioners, due to the expanded age group, are able to treat conditions that are a result of the normal aging process. While an adolescent specialist can provide gynecological care for teens, general practitioners are able to provide care for women clear through menopause.


There is also a difference in the compensation for each specialty. Whereas adolescent specialists make an average of approximately $167,000 per year, general practitioners average slightly higher at $180,000 per year.




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