Adolescent Medicine was established as a specialty about fifty years ago. Doctors noticed that what made teens unhealthy was not the Strep throats or the Chicken Pox as much as it was the decisions teens and young adults were making. As kids get older they are generally pretty healthy in a medical sense with the exception of an occasional case of Mono or the flu. But what makes teens unhealthy most often is related to sexuality, friends and family issues, alcohol and other substances, eating disorders (too much or too little or the wrong choices), driving and sports related injuries, and stress. So what we do differently in adolescent medicine is to think about the person as a whole, not as a medical problem, but as a human being navigating all of this new territory. Sometimes kids and young adults are navigating with an outdated map or without one at all. Our goal is to help them traverse the challenging zones and thrive into adulthood.
As parents we all know we are not always the best at getting our own kids to talk about what concerns them. And some of us have very complex kids who require “professional parenting skills.” Adolescent medicine helps to bridge gaps and helps parents to be proactive since we have our finger on the community and the cultural pulse.
I care for all outpatient teen and young adult gynecology concerns: cramps, too little, too much or irregular bleeding, STIs, birth control and sexuality counseling. I specialize in first-time pelvic exams, taking the time to teach, answer any questions and make the patient completely comfortable.
Unless they have a sports injury boys are often left out of comprehensive health care after they reach high school age. Yet, boys have concerns about friends, family, alcohol, sports injuries, head injuries, sexuality, and nutrition. I have four boys of my own and have learned a lot from them about their prism on life.
Many health issues are the surface projection of a person’s life stresses. Helping students manage academic, social or family stress is a part of every interview with a teen or young adult. Families will frequently come to me to have me take “the temperature” of a situation to help decide if a situation is “normal”, concerning, or needs more immediate attention either from the parents themselves or from a professional.
Every year thousands of high school and college students travel abroad. My travel visit not only addresses the vaccines (including yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, and hepatitis) and medications (including malaria recommendations) necessary for a safe trip but also helps students understand their role as ambassadors. As such they are encouraged to taste carefully but fully of the culture they are going to experience so as to return with a rich and healthy perspective.
College and Beyond:
As teens move into young adulthood, they also move toward independence over decisions about career, work, life partners, roles in their family and in the world. In adolescent medicine we view this as the next natural stage of development after the teen years. We understand this transition and where young adults have “come from” in ways that physicians who specialize in adults cannot.
Sexuality has to do with one’s view of oneself as a sexual person, something that even toddlers are aware of. As we mature, the questions about sexuality and one’s place in one’s family and in the greater culture become more complex. Whether a patient is gay, straight, transgendered or uncertain, adolescent medicine knows how to talk to him or her, how to listen and how to guide.
Nutrition and Eating Disorders:
Some of us are picky. Some of us overeat. Some of us diet too much. And some of us over-exercise or hate out bodies. All of us need some guidance about nutrition and healthy eating habits. We help to gauge the severity of an unusual eater and orchestrate the support services needed to restore health.
Medical Home Providers:
Teens and young adults who have had a chronic disease or a condition that has required medical or psychiatric attention often need an advocate and an orchestra conductor who can keep the whole person and his comprehensive needs in tune. Adolescent medicine understands the psychological, developmental, sexual and physical needs of everyone. A medical home is a place that keeps track of it all with the patient.
General Medical Care:
In addition to all of the ways that adolescent medicine takes special care of teens and young adults, it also provides routine care for camp, school and college checkups; immunizations; and acute illness diagnosis and management.