I'll get by with a little help from my friends - reflections from a general paediatrician

When recently asked why he chose to work in paediatrics, it got Dave Beattie, an ST7 in General Paediatrics based in Edinburgh, thinking. He reflected that after seven years of practicing in this niche, it's easy to forget how and why he originally chose to go down this route. Here are a few of his thoughts on why entering the world of paediatrics was right for him.

The last true generalists

Training in general paediatrics gives one of the few ways to truly stay general in the medical profession. Gone are the days of the adult general medical consultant. Everyone now has to be sub-specialised with only your on-call commitments maintaining more diversity. 

“Hold on, paediatrics is a very niche specialty quite apart from all other medicine,” I hear you say. This is true in part, yet within the specialty of paediatrics, hundreds of clinicians maintain the ability to care for children with almost any presentation. This can range from a one day old baby struggling to transition from life in the womb to a 15 year old finding the temptations of teenage life difficult to balance with their diabetes.

That isn't to say you can’t sub-specialise within paediatrics, as many chose to become an expert in a specific area such as paediatric neurology or neonatology. Others develop an interest in one of these areas while remaining largely general paediatricians. I plan to stay as general as I can, for as they say, variety is the spice of life. 

Dr Dave Beattie at work

Do kids not get sick really fast though?

They can do yes, but they also usually get better very fast too. 

Many friends who practice in adult medicine have asked me if I worried about how quickly children can deteriorate when I chose to do paediatrics. It is true - children can get sick fast. This can be challenging and scary, particularly when you are starting out in your first few years of training. That is partly why this branch of medicine is comparatively senior driven and hands on, even at the consultant level. 

The satisfying bit is that although even previously well children can become unwell very quickly, they also usually respond to treatment very quickly. You can have a child showing signs of serious infection who can scare both their parents and hospital staff alike. Yet with a few relatively simple intervening measures the same child can quickly look remarkably better and make a full recovery within a short space of time. Also, personally I take pride in being comfortable in an area of medicine that strikes fear into other clinicians. 

The majority of our patients in paediatrics make a swift and complete recovery which lends itself to a satisfying work life and also very grateful parents. For those who have ongoing and more chronic health concerns, we get to see these children make progress and develop in both the inpatient and outpatient setting, which naturally creates a strong bond with these families. 

I'll get by with a little help from my friends

People who devote their working lives to caring for children and their families tend to share some core personality traits: approachable, empathic and accommodating

For me, the colleagues you are surrounded by can make or break any job. This is one aspect of paediatrics that I didn't really consider when applying to the specialty, yet have since grown to realise is crucial. People who devote their working lives to caring for children and their families I've noticed tend to share some core personality traits. This include being approachable, empathic and accommodating. These are excellent qualities for our patients to benefit from, but notably they also lend themselves to creating a great atmosphere to work within. There is an informality within paediatric departments that may be comparatively lacking in some other branching of medicine. I've also witnessed how accommodating colleagues will be and help in whatever way they can when life events interfere with the natural work life balance. 

And finally, of course, the kids

How could I not finish by mentioning the main reason most paediatricians chose paeds. People will give a myriad of individual reasons why they chose to work in a specific specialty but there is one reason I am confident will be common ground for those choosing paediatrics: the children themselves. 

Working in this unique environment gives the privilege of being present at the start of life as well as when families are at their most vulnerable. This can of course be challenging at times, as parents tend to care for the health of their offspring far more than for their own health. On the other hand, I am constantly reminded, not only of how strong such families can be during difficult times, but also by the happiness that children bring even while unwell. A large number of our patients, particularly the infants and babies, don't realise they are ill at all and continue to smile and play whilst we go about our business of ensuring they get back to health as soon as possible. 

What better reason than this to pursue a career in paediatric medicine.

Interested in paediatrics? Find out more about this career or read our guide on applying for a specialty training (ST1/ST2) post.