As we all know from our childhood experiences, a pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of infants, toddlers, children, and even teenagers and sometimes young adults. So, it should come as no surprise that there is also a pediatric branch to surgery as well.
However, some of you may be wondering why surgery even needs a pediatric specialty. There are already countless specialties focusing on specific body parts, organs, and regions, so why would there be a specialization focusing on a very broad age group?
Well, there are many reasons for this. Firstly, a lot of serious medical conditions may manifest during babyhood, childhood, or adolescence. In fact, many pediatric surgeons’ jobs are to help surgically correct any malformations on a baby’s body, such as the separation of conjoined twins, and fused digits, the removal of extra limbs, and the repairing of clef lips and palates.
Aside from physical deformations that may exist within the youth, other conditions such as congenital heart and lung complications can be detected early in child development, and a pediatric surgeon would also be in charge of correcting these complications.
However, one might still be thinking to themselves; “So what? There are surgeons out there who already specialize in tumor removal, reconstructive surgery, and heart and lung operations. Why make a further specialization that focuses solely on children?” Well, the most obvious answer for that would be that children are still developing human beings.
Our bodies change and grow through time, and our current bodies are definitely a far cry from what it once was when we were babies, children, teens, or even as young adults. Human development is more than just puberty, as there are many internal changes that we go through as we grow up. One of the most commonly-known internal changes is the fact that as babies, we have about 300 bones at birth, and as time goes on, they fuse into the 206 bones we have as adults. A normal orthopedic surgeons would normally focus on adults due to the fact that most accidents happen when we’re already grown up. But a pediatric surgeon has training in fixing the additional 100-plus bones that young children have.
The human body is almost a completely different machine when we’re young, so it only makes sense that we have surgeons meant to specialize in this very special, and very different developmental stage. Pediatric surgeons are also trained to take extra care with their patients, due to their tender age, and how much more delicate children are.
One very special thing about pediatric surgeons is the fact that they can also be considered a “jack-of-all-trades” surgeon. Human children can go through all kinds of complications as they grow up, so it comes as no surprise that pediatric surgeons are trained in virtually all forms of surgery meant to re-contextualize themselves in a child’s body. This is nothing short of remarkable, since most surgeons focus on just one body system. Pediatric surgeons on the other hand do not focus on just one system, and instead focuses on all systems, under one very broad developmental phase.
It goes without saying that the work of a pediatric surgeon is one of incredible importance. Children are the future of the world, and thus it is paramount that pediatric surgeons take all the steps necessary to ensure the child’s health and survival. As adherers to the Hippocratic Oath, doctors more so required to help children because of many reasons. Children are naturally more fragile than adults, and thus are more at risk to both diseases, accidents, and the medical procedures and surgeries meant to save them. It’s this fragility that has also helped differentiate pediatric surgery from regular surgery, due to how much extra care a surgeon needs to take when operating on a child.
One other overlooked aspect in the field of pediatric surgery is the fact that pediatric surgeons are also trained in child psychology to some degree. Medical students who aspire to be pediatric surgeons often have a natural affinity for children, but the still need to be taught on how to navigate a child’s psyche and thoughts. The thought of surgery is already harrowing enough for adults, and what more for children? Part of a pediatric surgeon’s job is to make sure that the child feels safe, secure, and calm, both before, during (if they’re conscious), and after the procedure. A child’s mind is a delicate thing, and including child psychology in a pediatric surgeon’s training is very wise.
Aside from operating on children, one of the primary subspecialties of pediatric surgeons are neonatal surgery, and fetal surgery. Neonatal surgery is what has been described before. Taken from the words neo which means “new” and natal which means “birth”, neonatal surgery specializes in the surgery on newborn infants for complications like birth deformities like extra limbs, conjoined twins, clef lip and palate, etc.
However, fetal surgery is the astonishing practice of performing an operation on a developing fetus. With how radical and risky this idea is, fetal surgery is still in the developing stages of scientific understanding, however some examples have been performed. They are often done to stop the progression of birth defects at an early stage before the fetus is ready to be born, in cases where at that point, the deformity has already progressed to the point where surgery is no longer safe.
However, since it is still a relatively new field, fetal surgery is still rarely performed. Often, the risk outweighs the reward when it comes to this, with the risks being further damaging the baby, when more proven methods of surgery may help after the baby is born. But, thanks to the rapidly advancing world of medical science and technology, there may come a day when fetal surgery may be performed more frequently by pediatric surgeons to help save more young, innocent lives for the future.
In conclusion, pediatric surgeons are noble doctors, who help perform crucial surgery on the future of our world. They are a special breed who have made it their life’s mission to take on the task of protecting and healing these children, and it’s quite possible that a significant number of you may even owe your current lives thanks to the expertise and professionalism of pediatric surgeons.