Childhood Cancer

As with people in any other profession, doctors have many different specialties, temperaments, and skill levels. Your child’s treatment will be greatly enhanced if you and your child trust and communicate well with the doctor. The majority of discussions and decision-making will take place with the primary care doctor and your child’s specialist.

Primary care doctor. Your child’s primary care doctor (usually a pediatrician or family practice doctor) oversees all medical care. When your child is in the hospital, the primary care physician typically will visit, get reports from specialists, and check on your child. She should also be available to answer questions and provide support.

Specialist. A specialist has extensive training in a specific area of medicine. Cardiologists, for example, specialize in hearts; orthopedists specialize in bones and joints.

Your child may see many other doctors if she is in a teaching hospital. To help you sort them out, here’s a list of who’s who in large, children’s hospitals:

Medical student. A medical student is a college graduate who is attending medical school. Medical students wear white coats, but do not have M.D. on their name tags.

Intern. An intern (sometimes called a first-year resident) is a graduate of medical school who is in his or her first year of postgraduate training.

Resident. A resident is a graduate of medical school in her second to sixth year of postgraduate training. Most residents at pediatric hospitals will be pediatricians upon completion of their residencies.

Fellow. A fellow is a doctor who has completed four years of medical school, several years of residency, and is taking additional specialty training.

Attending physician. An attending physician (called simply “attending”) is above a fellow in the hospital hierarchy. Medical centers hire these well-established specialists to provide and oversee medical care and to train interns, residents, and fellows. They are frequently also professors on the staff of an affiliated medical school.

Residents usually rotate to different floors every four weeks, so they are an ever-changing group. The fellow or attending assigned to your child will be most familiar with your child’s situation and is the best person to seek out if questions arise about your child’s treatment or illness.

If your child is at a community hospital, her primary care doctor or a doctor who only works in the hospital (called “hospitalist”) will provide most of her care. But if your child is at a teaching hospital, she will be assigned a doctor from the appropriate specialty. These physicians will care for your child throughout treatment.