By Maria Komer, OMS-III
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
Maria Komer, DO
Some children need more than medical care. They need a voice. Children, like a young boy receiving illicit drugs from his father, or a newborn whose mother shows signs of intellectual disability, or a child whose parent sells the child’s Adderall, except for a few pills given prior to an appointment—just enough to pass a urine toxicology screen.
I met these children during my pediatrics rotation in southern Ohio. They are among the countless number of children in need of an advocate. For them, comprehensive care means more than just a well-child visit. It is an opportunity to get help. For them, a pediatrician is more than a medical professional. It is an adult willing to put them first.
School counselors, psychologists, and educators are at the forefront of identifying these cases. But not all of our patients have access to these support systems. However, all children should be able to find an advocate in their physician.
There are steps every pediatrician can take to best serve their patients. Pediatricians must work closely with child protective services, community organizations, school systems, and local legislatures to provide patients with resources. Medical professionals can enhance public policy by advocating for children at national conference meetings, communicating with policy makers and working with federal programs or child advocacy groups.
But advocating for children is not limited to Capitol Hill or City Hall. Pediatricians can advocate for their patients every day by insisting appointments are scheduled around visitation rights, court dates, the local bus schedule, and any other barrier to comprehensive care.
Child advocacy happens every day for pediatricians. It is an essential part of comprehensive care. Although some residencies incorporate child advocacy training in their curriculum through special interest meetings, conference attendance or elective rotation opportunities, it is dependent on residents to seek this training. We all must constantly strive to be better physicians and better advocates. It is part of our job description. It should be part of our continuing education too, because every child deserves a pediatrician that is willing and prepared to advocate on their behalf.
These children are not just in southern Ohio. They live in every community. All pediatricians, regardless of location or specialty, must be vigilant and prepared to advocate for their patients.