As we mature, we transition from child to adult to older adult — and each stage of life brings different health challenges and health care needs. Fortunately, there are doctors who specialize in each phase of life.
From Birth to Young Adulthood
There are several types of doctors you can choose to care for your children during the first stage of life.
Pediatricians have special training in growth and development from birth to early adulthood.
"Med-peds" physicians are trained and board certified in pediatrics and internal medicine (focused on adults). They have the training and expertise to manage chronic illnesses in the inpatient and outpatient setting.
Family medicine physicians are also trained in both pediatrics and internal medicine. Instead of taking your child to a pediatrician, you may decide to have him or her see your family medicine physician so one doctor can care for your entire family.
Your son is graduating from high school — he’s not a child anymore. Is it time to move on from his pediatrician?
"Although pediatricians can see patients up to the age of 21, most kids transition to a new doctor around the time they finish high school or when they go off to college," says Teresa Nam, MD, a med-peds physician at Rush University Medical Center.
Nam recommends that at age 16 your child start talking with his or her pediatrician about moving to a new doctor — or at age 14 if your child has complex medical issues. "If your child feels uncomfortable talking with the doctor about this, it is appropriate for you to have the conversation," Nam says.
Most young adults will transition from a pediatrician to an internist or family medicine physician. Internists and family medicine physicians train in general medicine, and some also practice obstetrics, gynecology and minor surgery. They can deal with most general health problems and refer you to specialists when necessary.
The Later Stages of Life
If you're in good health and have a good relationship with your current doctor, you might not need to transition to a
geriatrician. However, medical issues related to aging may
lead you to make the change. Geriatricians are specially trained to treat memory issues and problems related to the everyday functioning of older adults.
"In most instances, people come to us because of their health problems and the amount of assistance they need in dealing with them," says Michael Leiding, MD, a geriatrician at Rush.
Geriatricians act as care managers, coordinating the many specialists older adults sometimes need for multiple health issues and keeping track of all the treatments and medications being prescribed. Geriatricians work with other specialists, patients, families and caregivers to ensure that everyone understands the medical needs of the patient.
"In addition to medical care, we provide a lot of social and emotional care," Leiding says.
The Decision is Yours
Understanding your own health needs is the first step in making sure you have the right care through every stage of life.
"In the end, much of it is about individual choice," Nam says. "You define what you need and then find the doctor who has the right training to meet those needs."
To find a physician at Rush who fits your health care needs, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
Teresa Nam, MD, practices at Lifetime Medical Associates and has special interests in preventive medicine and chronic disease management.
Michael Leiding, MD, practices geriatric medicine at Rush University Senior Care and focuses on dementia and issues related to general function.