Is a Pediatrician a Parenting "Expert"?


Over the weekend, I was following an interesting debate on Twitter. One physician began the conversation by a simple comment:

A heated conversation followed among various, and many, Twitter users. Many agreed that pediatricians are experts in children’s health, but should never claim to be a parenting “expert”. Some argued that parenting is not a medical issue, so it is out of a medical doctor’s scope. Few suggested that pediatricians are overstepping their bounds when they are providing any parenting advice.

The dialog continued; ultimately trying to determine who, in fact, could claim they were truly qualified to give advice on parenting.

Counselors? Psychologists? Developmentalists? The parent of any child? No one?

In my opinion, the confusion lies in that asking a pediatrician a question about parenting is entirely different than asking a question about a medical issue. For questions about the safety of vaccines, or the way to treat an ear infection - these have evidence-based, reliable, repeatable, science-founded answers. Many doctors are experts on these well-defined medical issues.

But, parenting? Parenting is not concretely defined. Parenting itself is a wide, subjective, varying experience. There are many “rights”, and very few “wrongs”. And there is no book, or journal, or test that can scientifically evaluate the choices we all make as parents.

So, I don’t think anyone can be a parenting “expert". This includes pediatricians.

However, I do believe a pediatrician has a very unique job.

Pediatricians get to be in a front row seat, observing literally thousands of parenting situations. We get to learn from our families. We can determine the consistency of patterns and behaviors. We gain wisdom from their success and failures.

In addition, our experiences with our own children shape the way we see parenting issues. The highs and lows of our own parenting experience frames our discussions with families. Our passion for our own child’s success is spilled on the patients we serve.

And so, for most pediatricians, a certain amount of “parenting expertise” does build over time.

What a pediatrician is able to offer families, that few other medical specialties can, is a unique ability to navigate the consequences of parental choices. For those of us who invest in our patient families, openly communicate about personal and difficult decisions, and observe the resolution of parenting issues; we obtain the ability to share a perspective of parenting that is wide, truthful, and real.

And, I think that is worth sharing.

I am a specialist in children’s health care. And, the health of children I serve is often a direct result of the decisions of their parents. Although I certainly cannot, and will not, claim to be a parenting expert; my experience with parenting issues continues to grow. I hope to be a resource to many parents who choose to partner with me. We can learn from each other; and support our children with the best love, guidance, and medicine we both can offer.

Thanks to @DrGhaheri, @yayayarndiva, @DrJenGunter, @MedPedsDoctor, @motek42, and the others who inspired this post.