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What does a Neonatal Doctor do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A neonatal doctor is a type of physician that specializes in the care of infants. If a child is born too early, born with an illness, or develops a medical problem in infancy, a neonatal doctor is likely to serve as a specialist on the case. Becoming a neonatal doctor takes several years of specialization beyond normal medical training. Many of these doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and medical conditions related to premature birth or congenital abnormalities.

Infants are extremely delicate and vulnerable; it takes skilled and steady hands to be able to correctly diagnose, treat, or operate on very young babies. In addition to completing medical school, internships, and a residency period, a neonatal doctor will usually spend two or three years as a fellow studying neonatal treatment before becoming fully certified. Toward the end of each of these training periods, most doctors must take rigorous exams in order to move to the next level. Altogether, training for a neonatal doctor can take about ten years, following a regular undergraduate degree.

Some neonatal doctors specialize in surgery.
Some neonatal doctors specialize in surgery.

Most neonatologists work in hospitals, usually centering their practice around a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This is the area of a hospital where premature or sick infants receive care, and typically neonatologists are the main doctors that oversee the area. A neonatal doctor may be called in to consult when an ultrasound or other diagnostic method shows signs that a growing fetus may be developing problems, if a baby is born prematurely or with complications, or if an infant develops an illness or medical problem shortly after birth.

A neonatal doctor specializes in caring for newborns.
A neonatal doctor specializes in caring for newborns.

Some neonatal doctors specialize in neonatal surgery. Operations performed on infants are extremely difficult, since babies are so small and vulnerable to shock and other conditions. Some of the surgeries a neonatal surgeon may perform include the separation of conjoined twins, removal of cysts and obstructions, and the reparation of heart defects. The development of most surgical conditions in infants is very rare, but having qualified surgeons available can change a seemingly hopeless situation into a complete success in many instances.

Neonatal doctors are well-trained to care for critically ill newborns.
Neonatal doctors are well-trained to care for critically ill newborns.

A neonatal doctor may choose to work at a university or teaching hospital. This means that, in addition to regular duties, he or she may be in charge of supervising medical interns and residents and even teaching students in medical school. Learning from a good neonatal doctor can set a new generation of physicians on the path to this specialty. Having the opportunity to explain procedures and explore the capabilities of the medical field with younger students is seen as an incredibly rewarding experience by some doctors.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a PracticalAdultInsights writer.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a PracticalAdultInsights writer.

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Discussion Comments

anon990943

What is the difference between this and neonatal surgery? And which one is more exciting and a good kind of challenging to do? And would being a neonatal surgeon allow you to do fetal surgery as well?

Rotergirl

The neonatal specialty is becoming more popular and necessary, as more hospitals open NICU wings and start treating high-risk pregnancies and very premature babies.

Seems like when I was a teenager, you heard of micro-preemies being taken to the "big" teaching hospital miles away. They were never treated close by. But this is changing. Many more hospitals have a NICU and several neonatal doctors on staff. Twenty or thirty years ago, there might be just one or two of these doctors in an entire state. Medicine has changed.

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    • Some neonatal doctors specialize in surgery.
      By: V.R.Murralinath
      Some neonatal doctors specialize in surgery.
    • A neonatal doctor specializes in caring for newborns.
      By: Leon Forado
      A neonatal doctor specializes in caring for newborns.
    • Neonatal doctors are well-trained to care for critically ill newborns.
      By: Gert Vrey
      Neonatal doctors are well-trained to care for critically ill newborns.
    • Neonatal doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions related to premature birth.
      By: Trish23
      Neonatal doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions related to premature birth.
    • The neonatal period comprises the first 28 days of the child's life.
      By: Sabryna Washington
      The neonatal period comprises the first 28 days of the child's life.
    • A neonatal doctor may need to contact other physicians with more experience in specific birth defects.
      By: Kurhan
      A neonatal doctor may need to contact other physicians with more experience in specific birth defects.
    • Neonatal doctors are often tasked with talking to parents about their infant's health issues.
      By: massimhokuto
      Neonatal doctors are often tasked with talking to parents about their infant's health issues.