Paediatricians in Canada: Frequently asked questions
What is a paediatrician?
Paediatricians are doctors who specialize in child and youth health. After medical school, they train for at least 4 more years in the care of babies, children, and youth.
Many paediatricians specialize in a specific area of child and youth health. They are called subspecialists. Some examples are paediatric cardiologists (who focus on heart health), paediatric allergists, neonatologists (who care for sick newborns or premature babies), and developmental paediatricians.
Canadian paediatricians practice in many different ways:
- Some paediatricians do “consulting care”. They see patients who were referred to them by other doctors for help to diagnose and treat more serious problems.
- Some provide primary care in the community. This means they see children and youth who are both well (for example, at an annual exam) and sick. They are also called community paediatricians, and may work part-time in hospitals.
- Many paediatricians, particularly subspecialists, work in hospitals or clinics.
- Some teach in medical schools or do clinical research.
Paediatricians can play more than one role. For instance, they may have teaching and hospital duties, as well as an office practice.
What do paediatricians do?
Paediatricians provide a wide range of services for children, youth and their families. One day they might be taking care of a very sick newborn baby, while on another they may be treating a teenager who’s been involved in a car crash.
Most paediatricians do one or more of the following:
- Provide primary health care: “Primary care” is the day-to-day work of helping sick children get better and preventing healthy children from getting sick. This includes doing physical exams, diagnosing and treating problems, providing education and advice, and giving vaccines. Paediatricians make sure that children are reaching their milestones, growing and developing as they should. If there is a problem, a paediatrician may decide that a child needs to be seen by another health professional for more specialized care. The role of a primary care paediatrician is different depending on where they work. For example, in Alberta, paediatricians do not give routine vaccinations.
- Investigate, diagnose, and manage acute or chronic illness: Many paediatricians take care of children with complex medical needs. These may be long-term disabilities or conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma, or mental health problems.
- Promote health: To help children stay healthy, paediatricians provide advice on issues such as injury prevention, nutrition, physical activity, and behaviour. They do this in their offices, through the media, and by working with other health care professionals, the public, and governments.
- Research and evaluate treatment measures: Research by paediatricians contributes to new ways of treating health problems in babies, children and youth. Paediatricians also evaluate current ways of caring for children and youth to make sure that those methods work best.
- Work with other professionals: Paediatricians work with other professionals who care for children, including child protection workers, teachers and psychologists.
- Advocate for children and youth: Many paediatricians speak with community and parent groups, write opinion articles in the media, engage in social media and provide advice to politicians so they can make informed decisions about improving health services for children.
Does every child in Canada see a paediatrician?
Most children see a family doctor for their ongoing health care. About 30% to 40% of children visit a paediatrician for primary health. This is partly because there are only about 2,500 practicing paediatricians in all of Canada and many of these provide only specialty or consulting care.
Whether a paediatrician is available also depends on where you live. In cities like Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg and in the province of Quebec, it’s common for children to see paediatricians for their routine care. But children in British Columbia, Alberta, the Maritimes and areas outside large urban centres see family doctors, who refer children with more complex medical needs to paediatricians.
How do you find a paediatrician?
If you live in an area where paediatricians usually provide primary care, there are a few ways to find one:
- Word of mouth: Ask friends and family members with children about their paediatricians.
- Provincial colleges: Each province has a college of physicians and surgeons, which grants licenses to doctors to practice. Many of the colleges can help people find doctors accepting new patients. Our Find a Doctor page has links to these services.
- Referrals: In some areas, you will need a referral from a family doctor or nurse practitioner to see a paediatrician.
* You may also see the word “pediatrician.” This is the American spelling.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: October 2015