Pediatrics (also spelled paediatrics) is the branch of medicine that deals with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents, and the age limit usually ranges from birth up to 18-21 years of age (in some places until completion of secondary education). A medical practitioner who specializes in this area is known as a pediatrician, or paediatrician.

The word paediatrics and its cognates mean “healer of children”. Pediatricians work both in hospitals, particularly those working in its specialized subfields such as neonatology, and as primary care physicians who specialize in children.

Differences between adult and pediatric medicine

The body size differences are paralleled by maturation changes. The smaller body of an infant or neonate is substantially different physiologically from that of an adult. Congenital defects, genetic variance, and developmental issues are of greater concern to pediatricians than they often are to adult physicians.

A common adage is that children are not simply “little adults”. The clinician must take into account the immature physiology of the infant or child when considering symptoms, prescribing medications, and diagnosing illnesses.

A major difference between the practice of pediatric and adult medicine is that children, in most jurisdictions and with certain exceptions, cannot make decisions for themselves. The issues of guardianship, privacy, legal responsibility and informed consent must always be considered in every pediatric procedure. Pediatricians often have to treat the parents and sometimes, the family, rather than just the child.

Adolescents are in their own legal class, having rights to their own health care decisions in certain circumstances. The concept of legal consent combined with the non-legal consent (assent) of the child when considering treatment options, especially in the face of conditions with poor prognosis or complicated and painful procedures/surgeries, means the pediatrician must take in to account the desires of many people, not just the patient.