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Family Doctor vs. Pediatrician

by Beth Greenwood

Pediatricians and family practice doctors are physicians who care for children and adolescents. A pediatrician's practice, however, is limited to those age groups, while a family practice doctor also cares for adults and seniors. In most other respects, the two professions are comparable in terms of length of education, knowledge, skills and duties. Family practice and pediatrics are among the top 20 specialties in high demand in the United States, according to Merritt Hawkins, a nationwide physician recruiting firm. In 2011, Merritt Hawkins had over 500 requests for family practice physicians and over 60 requests for pediatricians.

Pediatricians

Children and adolescents are the focus of a pediatrician's practice and much of the care a pediatrician provides is directed toward the prevention of childhood disease and disability. Pediatricians often see a newborn infant in the hospital and continue to care for that infant until the age of 18. Pediatrics is a specialty in its own right, but some pediatricians choose sub specialties within the field. Neonatologists care for premature and critically ill full-term infants in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Other pediatricians might specialize in pediatric dermatology, infectious diseases or cardiology.

Family Practice

A family practice physician is trained to care for the whole person -- regardless of age -- and to coordinate care if a patient needs a specialty referral, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Family practice doctors diagnose, treat and manage child, adolescent and adult medical conditions. Family practice physicians may also specialize, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Recognized family practice specialties include adolescent medicine, geriatric medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, sleep medicine and sports medicine. With the exception of adolescent medicine, family practice physicians who specialize continue to treat patients of all ages.

Similarities

Pediatricians and family practice doctors both attend college and medical school. Both must be licensed to practice in the United States and most are also board-certified in their respective specialties. Both pediatricians and family practice doctors care for newborns, children and adolescents. They diagnose diseases and injuries, manage chronic medical conditions such as asthma, and provide preventive care such as well-child check-ups and immunizations. Both pediatricians and family practice physicians practice in hospitals, clinics and private offices, with the exception of neonatologists, whose practice may be confined to the hospital. They might be employed by hospitals,clinics or managed care organizations, be members of group practices or work as independent small business owners.

Differences

A pediatric residency is focused exclusively on the diseases and illnesses that affect children, while a family practice residency covers medical conditions for all age groups. Unlike a pediatrician, a family practice doctor might perform minor surgery, deliver babies and provide routine gynecological care for adult women. Family practice doctors also manage many conditions associated with normal aging, such as menopause, and take care of the elderly. A pediatrician might manage the care of all the siblings in a family, while a family practice doctor could manage the care of children, parents and grandparents in the same family. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that pediatricians earned an average annual salary of $167,640 in 2012, while family practice doctors earned $180,850.

Other Considerations

Both pediatricians and family practice doctors need similar skills. They must be detail-oriented, compassionate and well-organized. Physicians normally work long hours; they must have physical and emotional stamina to complete their tasks. They must be willing to continue learning throughout their careers. The two biggest differences between pediatricians and family practice doctors are knowledge and flexibility. A family practice doctor has a much broader knowledge of disease and disability as she treats patients from birth to death. She must also be able to build rapport with all age groups, not just children and adolescents, and to shift her focus with each patient.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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