By Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD
It’s likely that if you’re not in the medical field, you’ve never heard of an adolescent medicine specialist. After all, why would you need a specialist just because you’ve reached a certain age?
The answer: a lot of reasons.
Adolescent health exists because young people are dealing with a lot of changes. I’m talking about not only puberty (the physical changes, like having your voice deepen and getting your period), but also social changes. These include things like changing relationships, thinking about sexual and reproductive health for the first time, exploring your identity and planning your future. All of these changes are heavily influenced by your family, friends, community and more.
As an adolescent medicine specialist, it’s my job to help you navigate those changes. After all, health isn’t just about blood pressure and cholesterol levels—it’s about building healthy relationships, choosing a birth control method, dealing with stress, and more.
Here are 14 reasons you might want to see an adolescent health specialist.
1. You’re 10-25 years old.
These are the years generally considered to be “adolescence.” Adolescent medicine specialists can help you navigate a wide variety of physical, emotional and social issues during this time—so really, you don’t need a better reason than your age to begin seeing an adolescent medicine specialist. They provide all the same services your pediatrician or primary care provider would (plus some extra services and added benefits). Adolescent medicine specialists serve different ages though, so check before making an appointment.
2. You don’t feel comfortable talking to your pediatrician about sex and relationships.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about sex, relationships, puberty, or drugs and alcohol with the same doctor you’ve been seeing since you were in diapers. But it’s also really important to have these conversations with your provider so you can get the best care possible. Adolescent medicine specialists are trained to talk about all of these things in a respectful and age-appropriate way.
3. You want to talk about your emotional health.
Adolescent medicine specialists can help you with emotional and mental health issues like stress, anxiety, sleep problems, self-esteem, eating disorders and more. They can help you learn how to manage your emotions, and connect you to mental health professionals if appropriate.
4. You are (or think you might be) LGBTQ.
Adolescent medicine specialists have often had extra training in LGBTQ health. This not only means they’re generally better acquainted with young LGBTQ people’s medical needs, but are more likely to understand the importance of using the correct pronouns, for example. They’re likely to also be connected to additional LGBTQ resources in your community, like support groups.
5. You don’t want to sit in a waiting room surrounded by toddlers.
As you grow older, it’s understandable that you’d like to surround yourself with people who are closer to your age. Plus, clinics that specialize in adolescent health often design their waiting rooms to be warmer and friendlier.
6. You need sexual or reproductive health care.
Adolescent medicine specialists do many of the same jobs that gynecologists do, such as prescribing birth control, testing for and treating STIs, performing gynecological exams and Pap smears, and more.
7. You have a kid.
If you’re a young parent, adolescent medicine specialists can provide care for you and your child under one roof. This means you don’t have to deal with multiple doctors’ offices.
8. You’re struggling at home or in your relationships.
Adolescent medicine specialists can help you communicate with your family and build healthy relationships.
9. You’re concerned about confidentiality.
If you don’t want others (especially caregivers) to learn what you tell your doctor, adolescent medicine specialists can help. They are familiar with laws surrounding confidentiality, and can explain them to you in a clear way. If they do need to tell your caregiver or someone else something that you’ve told them, they will let you know in advance.
10. You want to begin managing your own care.
As you get older, you’ll begin to manage your own medical care. This means you need to build basic skills like how to give your own medical history and ask your doctor questions when you don’t understand something. Adolescent health clinics are great places to grow these skills in a safe place.
11. You want guidance, not orders.
You may be used to your doctor telling you what to do, like to eat more vegetables or get outside more. Adolescent medicine specialists will talk you through how behaviors affect your health, and how to make your own health decisions. They can also help you identify and overcome barriers to living a healthy life—like figuring out how to cope with stress or eat healthier when you don’t have much money.
12. You have a chronic medical condition.
If you have a chronic medical condition, you may be dealing with all these changes with extra questions and challenges, like how to physically keep up with your friends or navigate relationships with a disability. Some pediatricians find it difficult to talk about these new issues when they’ve been treating their patient’s medical needs for so long. An adolescent medicine specialist can help you navigate these questions.
13. You play sports.
If you need treatment for an injury, a physical to participate in a school sport, or other (non-surgical) sports medicine, an adolescent medicine specialist will have your back.
14. Puberty isn’t going quite like it’s supposed to.
Adolescent medicine providers can provide specialty care when puberty is happening out of order, too slowly, or too quickly.
Sound like you?
If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you can make an appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, comprehensive health services. If you don’t, you can search for adolescent health professionals here.
Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD is a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center who is fellowship trained in adolescent medicine. In addition to general adolescent care, Dr. Gordon sees obese adolescents who are interested in comprehensive medical and reproductive health care through a structured, multidisciplinary approach to weight loss.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.