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Why Adolescent Medicine?

Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering which specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Today's post is on why Dr. Neavel chose the field of adolescent medicine and why it is a great field.

Pursuing adolescent medicine means keeping up with youth culture and headlines. It means applying holistic care to our world's future. Focusing on young people ages 10-24 (World Health Organization definition of adolescence) means training yourself to be in the moment and present.

Adolescent medicine physicians can start as Internists, Family Physicians, Pediatricians, or Obstetric-Gynecologists. There are shorter clinical fellowships and classic three-year ones to further specialize. Physicians can work inpatient, outpatient, primary care, consultation, research, academics, and administration. We can specialize further in sports medicine, eating disorders, mental health, gynecology and menstrual disorders, college health, juvenile justice, sexuality and family planning, gender care, substance abuse, consent and confidentiality and the law, chronic diseases, global health, and more. What we all share is our advocacy for a better world for youth.

Like many adolescent medicine docs, I speak out about what youth need to be healthy, educated citizens. We join organized medicine, we connect globally, we speak at conferences, we develop policy, and we make ourselves available to media. I have had to push through my nervousness, but now other professionals and media value my activism. Adolescent medicine MDs share the stories and science of young people.

It's a myth that teens don't talk. A closed door and an interested, non-judgmental physician can spark frank and rewarding conversations. The intriguing, never dull aspect of adolescent medicine is factoring in a young person's psycho-social developmental stage, culture, medical concerns, and changing physiology. More adolescents are people of color from diverse backgrounds. You may see an impoverished, traumatized recent immigrant, followed by a well-off, overachieving honor student. Flexibility is required, especially when negotiating with family members of various ages (such as the adolescents' own children, grandparents, younger siblings, guardians), sexual partners, friends, schools and agencies, case workers, and others involved in their lives who might show up with them. Our clinic encourages this!

I like the challenge of creating a safe, youth-friendly healthcare space for my patients. I like the constant challenge of using all my skills in diagnosing what is going on-organic, somatic, or a combination- and then developing a shared treatment plan with the adolescent and their supportive adult(s) as appropriate. Part of my job includes being able to communicate about difficult topics. These range from suicidal ideation, sexual practices, to family conflict. My rewards may be patients sharing pictures of beloved pets and beautiful quinceaneras or sending graduation announcements or bringing a friend to meet me.

Since my practice is outpatient, many of my patients go from being pre-pubertal to successful young adults. I appreciate all the stages, and even obstacles, that we have shared. Indeed, our interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurse practitioners (who also can do adolescent health fellowships), social workers, psychologists, medical assistants, health educators, nurses, and nutritionists provide complex care. We address uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes, contraception and STI testing, acne, anxiety, and immunizations all in one patient. One-stop medical, preventive, and mental health care! Rewarding for everyone.

An adolescent medicine physician gets to work with health professionals from many disciplines. This means always learning from each other. I have appreciated my own great personal growth from this. Having youth as partners in their own care is an emphasis right now. Our clinic has community young people and patients serve on our Youth Advisory Council. They teach us even more about our own biases, how to engage youth, and how to provide better care.

Consider adolescent medicine if:

  • You are fascinated by human development and the interplay of physiology, society, and behavioral health.

  • You like to work as part of a committed team with other health professionals.

  • You like the challenge of mixing good medical knowledge with good communication skills.

  • You like the energy of staying up to date with youth culture and political issues.

  • You enjoy variety in your day to day medical practice.

  • You want to make an important difference in your patients' futures

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Great article! I never knew there were so many routes for further specialization in family medicine. Looking forward to reading more from you :)

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