Transitioning from a pediatrician to an adult healthcare provider is not always easy, particularly for young patients who have grown up with a congenital or chronic illness. For them, finding an adult doctor who is as familiar with their condition as their pediatrician can be problematic.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. At UCLA, a growing number of physicians receive extensive training in both internal medicine and pediatrics, and they are caring for patients across the life spectrum. Since 2003, UCLA’s Combined Program in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics has provided four years of residency training leading to board certification in both specialties. Since 2010, so-called med-peds physicians at the Santa Monica-UCLA Internal Medicine and Pediatrics office have been seeing patients of all ages and, in many cases, they are caring for entire families.
“The versatility of these practitioners in both pediatrics and adult medicine is very helpful, especially for children with chronic or debilitating illnesses,” says Alice Kuo, M.D., Ph.D. ,director of the training program. “Because traditional internal medicine training doesn’t cover childhood conditions, many adult providers are uncomfortable with classically pediatric illnesses, such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis or congenital heart disease. As a result, many adults with these conditions continue to see pediatric specialists since they have not been able to find the right adult provider.”
Even for patients without complex medical illnesses, there are many advantages to being able to keep one’s childhood physician into adulthood, says Eric Curcio, M.D., co-director of Santa Monica-UCLA Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. “It makes a big difference when the doctor has a good feel for the family context,” he explains. “So much of what goes into being a good primary-care physician involves providing advice based on an understanding of the patient’s social context – including the strengths and limitations of the family.”
That family context comes from treating patients across their lifespan, but it can also come from seeing children, their parents and, in some cases, their grandparents. The convenience for parents to schedule back-to-back appointments for themselves and their children is a major bonus for many. In addition, the strength of med-peds physicians in treating both children and adults makes the practice particularly appealing to adolescent and young-adult patients, whose needs often involve both types of expertise.