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What is a Pediatric Pulmonologist?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pediatric pulmonologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of lung disorders in children and adolescents under the age of 18. A doctor utilizes many types of equipment and methods to accurately identify diseases. Pulmonologists assess respiratory disorders, congenital problems, lung disease, and malignancies. Diagnosing and treating young patients requires expert knowledge that is obtained through an extensive educational program and a practical residency. Licensed professionals work in many settings, including general hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics, and private practices.

Patients are usually referred to a pediatric pulmonologist after primary-care doctors detect abnormal lung or respiratory tract conditions. The pulmonologist can perform physical examinations, evaluate reported symptoms, and oversee diagnostic testing procedures. He or she analyzes results from computerized tomography scans, x-rays, blood tests, and tissue biopsies to make accurate diagnoses. With the help of nurses and other specialists, the doctor can determine the best course of treatment for particular patients.

Depending on a diagnosis and the severity of a condition, the pediatric pulmonologist may decide to prescribe medications, provide counseling, or recommend surgery. Children who suffer from bronchitis or asthma, for example, are often given oral inhalers to help ease their symptoms and advised to avoid potential triggers. A pulmonologist might deem surgery necessary if medications are ineffective or if emergency conditions pose a significant threat to the health of a child. Young patients respond differently than adults to certain treatments and medications, so a professional must be very knowledgeable in order to make the best decisions. In addition, the doctor needs to be able to relate to children and accurately explain things in words that they can understand.

A person who wants to become a pediatric pulmonologist is usually required to first complete a four-year program at an accredited medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree. After graduation, a new doctor typically spends about one year in a general internship position in an emergency room or hospital, followed by a three-year residency in either pediatrics or internal medicine. An additional two to four years are spent in a pediatric pulmonology practice or hospital wing to provide supervised, practical experience in the specialty.

Following a successful residency program, a pediatric pulmonologist can take a series of exams administered by a governing board to earn his or her license. Licensed doctors have the opportunity to begin working independently in their choice of settings. Most pulmonologists work in general hospitals or pediatric centers to treat patients with all types of conditions. Other professionals are self-employed in private practices, where they provide outpatient services and conduct regular screenings on patients with chronic conditions.

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