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Why Adolescent Medicine Matters – A Primer

In the ever-evolving world of digital technology, new tools to track and map our health appear on a daily basis. But to many, adolescent medicine may be a medical subspecialty with which you are not familiar. An 'Adolescent Specialist', a focus for either pediatricians or family physicians, manages all aspects of health needs for patients in the adolescent stage of human development. Generally speaking, adolescence is the stage of 11/12 years of age to about 18/19 years old.

Why is it so important?

Adolescent medicine has emerged as an important subspecialty due to better scientific understanding of young people’s health needs, changes in society and an understanding that adolescence marks an important transition phase into a healthy adulthood. Adolescents have unique needs in the physical, psychological and social realm that require a uniquely tailored focus. In addition, adolescent medicine requires a doctor to draw from other medical disciplines in order to address the specific needs of the adolescent. Understanding and defining the onset of adolescence, both on the biological and psychosocial level, allows for appropriate treatment and an increased focus and understanding of educational and research needs. In addition, social changes have impacted adolescents in a more significant way, requiring an interdisciplinary approach to adolescent care. According to the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties, there is currently a shortage of adolescent medicine specialists.

What is the focus of an adolescent medicine specialist?

Pediatricians who focus on adolescent medicine perform medical exams, complete medical histories, order diagnostic tests and develop treatment plans. In addition though, they may treat conditions like growth and hormone problems, developmental disorders and musculoskeletal injuries, including sports injuries.

More importantly, they also address psychosocial issues such as substance abuse, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, depression and transgender needs. Adolescents may have complex issues that have both medical and behavioral components, so a specialty focus is necessary.

What is the future of adolescent medicine?

Given a more informed understanding of adolescent development, opportunities and challenges will certainly arise. With a better understanding of behavioral trends in adolescents, impacts will likely be found on the health of adolescents across a broad spectrum. Vaccines for HPV and HIV, as well as an increase in adolescent obesity could have implications on the overall health of adolescents into adulthood.

The increased use of technology and social media will have an impact on an adolescent’s life and lifestyle choices and families will need to gain a solid understanding of the influence of technology on a teen’s life.

A pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine possesses the skill set to take a multi-disciplinary approach in addressing the unique physical, psychological and social needs of teens and young adults, increasing the impact the pediatrician can have on the lives of children and young adults.

Sources: Journal of Ethics – American Medical Association; Council of Pediatric Subspecialties; American Board of Pediatrics; American Academy of Pediatrics

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Bettina Dold

Bettina Dold, M.S. is the Director of Marketing at PCC.