Physician specialties: adolescent medicine

August 21, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Returning to  Gap Medics House in Thailand Adolescent medicine may be a medical specialty with which you are not familiar. Specialists in adolescent medicine manage the health needs of patients who are in the adolescence stage of their development. Although puberty may start at varied ages, adolescence is usually defined as between 11 or 12 through about 18 or 19. In some instances, adolescent medicine specialists may treat patients who are slightly older or younger. 

What does an adolescent medicine doctor do?

Although people are different, there may be some common health concerns that adolescents may face. Adolescent medicine doctors evaluate, diagnose and treat both behavioral and health problems that relate to adolescence.

Adolescent specialists will perform medical exams, complete medical histories, order diagnostic tests and develop treatment plans. Doctors who specialize in adolescent medicine may treat conditions like growth and hormone problems, developmental disorders and musculoskeletal injuries, including sports injuries.

In addition, problems, such as substance abuse, eating disorders and sexually transmitted diseases are also treated by adolescent medicine specialists. Young people with psychosocial problems including depression, anxiety and sexual identity issues may also see an adolescent medicine doctor.

Although many of the conditions listed above also occur in patients of all ages, adolescents may require a unique treatment approach due to their developmental stage and needs. Young people may have complex issues that have both medical and behavioral components, such as alcohol abuse or an eating disorder. 

Training to become an adolescent medicine specialist

As with all areas of medicine, you can prepare for a career as an adolescent medicine specialist starting in high school. Classes in biology, math and chemistry are helpful.

The next step is graduating with a bachelor’s degree from a college or university. You don’t necessarily need to major in biology or pre-med. In fact, majors in business or biomedical engineering may make you a well-rounded medical school applicant. Whatever major you decide on, make sure you incorporate science and math classes, which you are required to take in order to get into medical school.

Most medical schools require college classes in inorganic and general chemistry, biology and calculus. Classes in human development are also a good idea. Keep your grades up, because competition to get into medical school is tough. You will also need to take the MCAT, which is the admission test into medical school.

Completing four years of medical school and your residency comes next. Adolescent medicine is considered a subspecialty of family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine. This means you can complete a residency in any one of the three aforementioned specialties. All three residencies are three years in length.

After completing either a pediatrics, family practice or internal medicine residency, you will need to pass the written and oral exam in your specialty in order to become board certified.

At that point, you still aren’t quite finished with training. According to the American College of Physicians, a one to three-year fellowship in adolescent medicine needs to be completed.

Opportunities and salary

According to the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties, there is currently a shortage of adolescent medicine doctors. A shortage may mean that you will have different opportunities available once you have completed training. 

Adolescent medicine specialists may find employment in a variety of settings, including the juvenile justice system, college health centers and adolescent mental health facilities. Many doctors also choose to provide services through private practice. Additional opportunities are available in research and education.

Some adolescent medicine specialists may combine their private practice with their residency-trained specialty, such as internal medicine. Combining services means they treat adolescents, but also provide medical care to adult patients typically seen in an internal medicine practice. Operating their practice as both an internal medicine doctor and an adolescent medicine specialist may allow for a broader practice.

Salary will depend on whether you are in private practice, where you live and the type of institution you are working in. On average, an adolescent medicine specialist in the United States makes about $200,000 a year.

Working conditions

As with all medical specialties, it is helpful to have an idea of what the working conditions will be like. For instance, some specialties may typically require on-call or rotating shifts.

Depending on the healthcare facility you work in and the services provided, you may primarily work during daytime hours as an adolescent medicine doctor. Many services offered by adolescent medicine specialists may be performed on an outpatient basis. In some cases patients may be hospitalized, but doctors will often see patients during the day.

Is adolescent medicine the right subspecialty for you?

Doctors who choose to go into adolescent medicine should have an interest in caring for young people as they transition into adulthood. If you have an interest in research, adolescent medicine also has opportunities to move the field forward.

In order to increase your chances of being successful in the field of adolescent medicine, it is helpful to have certain personality traits and strengths. For instance, physicians working with young people should be team players. Physicians in this specialty often work with others including nurses, psychiatrists, social workers and physical therapists. 

It is also beneficial to be patient and have a calm demeanor. Going through adolescence without any additional issues can be a tough time. Add in the complication of a medical, emotional or behavioral problem, and you can see why a young person may need assistance. Being calm and understanding will allow patients to feel at ease.

Although opportunities still exist outside of private practice, many adolescent medicine specialists open their own offices. If going into private practice is not something you are interested in, you may want to take that into consideration.

Certain medical specialties routinely involve critical situations in a fast-paced environment. For example, as an ER doctor you would be dealing with life and death medical conditions on a routine basis. Adolescent medicine is not usually a fast-paced type of specialty. Depending on your personality and what type of work you enjoy, it may not be as exciting as other specialties—or maybe adolescent medicine is just right for you!