Pediatric Surgeon: Your Child Surgery Expert

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What is a pediatric surgeon?

A pediatric surgeon specializes in the surgical care of diseases, injuries and deformities in premature and newborn infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric surgeons diagnose and treat many conditions affecting children, including birth defects, traumatic injuries, cancer, and abdominal problems, such as appendicitis and hernias.

A pediatric surgeon typically: 

  • Evaluates the child’s medical history within the context of his or her growth and development. Pediatric surgeons determine if surgery is necessary and at what age a surgery should be done.

  • Educates children, parents and guardians about the surgical procedure, how to prepare a child for surgery, and what to expect during recovery based on the child’s age and development

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications

  • Performs exploratory surgeries and procedures, such as endoscopy and laparoscopy, to diagnose diseases and conditions

  • Treats various diseases and conditions by performing surgical procedures, such as appendectomy, bariatric surgery, intestinal transplant surgery, and fundoplication (anti-reflux surgery)

  • Provides care before, during and after surgery

  • Works closely with your child’s primary care doctor and other specialists and members of the healthcare team to provide optimal care

Pediatric surgeons may also be known by the following names: children's surgeon, child surgeon, surgeon for kids, pediatric general surgeon, and peds surgeon.

Who should see a pediatric surgeon?

Your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor may refer you to a pediatric surgeon after diagnosing your child with a medical condition or illness that requires surgery, such as a hernia or birth defect. Sometimes children see a pediatric surgeon for unexplained symptoms that are difficult to diagnose, such as chronic abdominal pain. A pediatric surgeon can evaluate your child’s condition and determine if surgery is right for your child. .

When should you see a pediatric surgeon?

Consider seeking care from an experienced pediatric surgeon if your child is diagnosed with any of the following symptoms or conditions: 

You should also seek care from a pediatric surgeon under the following situations:

  • You child has a condition or disease that requires ongoing monitoring and specialized surgical care, such as a birth defect.

  • Your child’s pediatrician or primary doctor finds an abnormality that needs further evaluation, such as an abdominal mass or swelling of the testicles

What conditions and diseases does a pediatric surgeon treat?

A pediatric surgeon treats many conditions and disorders including:

  • Birth defects including diaphragmatic hernia and problems with the esophagus and intestines

  • Cancer including Wilms' tumor, neuroblastoma, and germ cell tumors

  • Endocrine disorders including thyroid disease and adrenal gland disorders

  • Gastrointestinal problems including hernias, appendicitis, intestinal failure, pyloric stenosis, chronic abdominal pain, abdominal tumors, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Head and neck problems including cysts and masses

  • Obesity in older children and adolescents

  • Organ disorders including kidney, liver, pancreas, and small bowel disease

  • Trauma including injuries due to falls, sports and playground injuries, burns, motor vehicle accidents, and child abuse

What tests does a pediatric surgeon perform or order?

A pediatric surgeon can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic tests, including:

  • Biopsy (taking a tissue sample) to look for infection or disease such as cancer

  • Endoscopy and colonoscopy to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal (GI) problems

  • General health and screening tests including stool testing for blood and infection, complete blood count (CBC), blood clotting tests, blood culture, urinalysis, blood glucose (sugar) test, electrolyte tests, liver and kidney function tests, and blood pressure screening

  • Imaging tests including X-rays, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Physical exam and medical history to determine if your child is physically ready, at the right stage of development, and healthy enough for surgery

What procedures and treatments does a pediatric surgeon perform or order?

Pediatric surgeons perform many procedures and treatments to manage a child’s health. A pediatric surgeon will perform minimally invasive techniques, including laparoscopic surgery and robot-assisted surgery, when appropriate and if they are available at the hospital or surgery center where the surgeon practices. Common surgical procedures include: 

  • Abdominal surgery including hernia repair, appendectomy, intestinal transplant surgery, spleen and gallbladder removal, fundoplication (anti-reflux surgery), and removal of swallowed objects

  • Bariatric surgery to help obese adolescents lose weight and reduce their risks of serious complications of obesity such as type 2 diabetes

  • Congenital surgery to correct birth defects

  • Head and neck procedures including thyroidectomy (thyroid removal) and tracheostomy (opening from the neck to the windpipe)

  • Oncology surgery to remove cancer and noncancerous growths or tumors

  • Organ transplant including liver, kidney, pancreas, and small bowel transplant

  • Trauma surgery including the surgical treatment of injuries from falls, sports, car accidents, burns, and child abuse

Pediatric surgeon training and certification

A surgeon may practice pediatric surgery without becoming board certified in the specialty of pediatric surgery. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification in pediatric surgery verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the pediatric surgery and has passed competency examinations.

A board-certified pediatric surgeon has:

  • Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree

  • Completed five years of surgical residency training and earned certification as a general surgeon from the American Board of Surgery

  • Completed two years of specialized fellowship training in pediatric surgery

  • Passed subspecialty certification exams that validate the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in pediatric surgery

To maintain board certification in pediatric surgery, a doctor must participate in the American Board of Surgery's Maintenance of Certification program.

The American Board of Surgery does not formally recognize any subspecialties of pediatric surgery. However, there are pediatric surgeons who are leaders in their field or in treating a specific type of condition, such as congenital disorders and birth defects.

Other board-certified specialists, such as general surgeons, pediatric urologists, and congenital cardiac surgeons, also treat children who need surgery. Talk to your doctor about the best kind of specialist for your child and ask for a referral to a well-respected doctor. When considering a pediatric surgeon, ask for details about his or her training and experience.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Certification Matters: Pediatric Surgery. American Board of Medical Specialties. http://www.certificationmatters.org/abms-member-boards/surgery.aspx.   
  2. Pediatric Surgery Exams Offered. The American Board of Surgery. http://www.absurgery.org/default.jsp?examoffered_ps.  
  3. APSA Family and Parent Resources. The American Pediatric Surgical Association. http://pediatricsurgerymd.org/What_is_a_Pediatric_Surgeon_.htm.  
  4. Specialties & Subspecialty Certificates. American Board of Medical Specialties. http://www.abms.org/member-boards/specialty-subspecialty-certificates/.