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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
March 30, 2020

What Is Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison
  • 2General Pediatrics, University of Florida, Gainesville
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(5):512. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0311

Adolescent and young adult medicine is a subspecialty of health care that focuses on the care and well-being of patients who are between the ages of 10 and 25 years.

During this age, youth experience changes such as puberty, early romantic relationships, evolving cognitive abilities, and growing independence from their parents. Adolescent and young adult medicine physicians are trained in these developmental needs, as well as in preventing and treating medical conditions that are common in this age group. Adolescent and young adult medicine physicians may require a referral for a clinic visit and may see patients for primary or specialty care. Some conditions that may lead to a referral include eating disorders, substance use, mental health issues, and reproductive health.

The subspecialty of adolescent and young adult medicine is distinctive in that it overlaps patients’ ages when youth may be seen for primary care by a pediatrician, a family medicine physician, or an internal medicine (adult) physician. Physicians with initial training in any of these 3 primary care areas can choose to do a fellowship or an extra training period in adolescent and young adult medicine. These fellowships are typically 3 additional years on top of the physician’s initial training and provide focused experience in caring for adolescents and young adults. Adolescent and young adult medicine physicians may work in large hospital and/or clinic settings as specialists; in college health settings; or places such as psychiatric-, eating disorder–, or substance use–specialized facilities.

If your child is referred to an adolescent and young adult medicine physician, you may experience some unique aspects. First, they work closely with other adolescent-focused clinicians. Adolescents who have concerns in areas such as mental health, eating disorders, or substance use often benefit from a team of health care professionals, which may include a medical physician, a mental health specialist, and a dietician, working together to coordinate the adolescent’s care.

Second, your child will be seen independently for part of the visit. The physician’s focus will be on the adolescent or young adult as an independent patient. Your child will be given the opportunity for 1-on-1 time with the physician without a parent in the room.

Third, some of your child’s care will be confidential. Adolescent and young adult medicine physicians are trained to assess all areas of your child’s health, including their physical and mental health. Some areas, including mental or reproductive health, are considered confidential care, which is regulated by state laws for minors. When care is confidential, parents may not be told about all aspects of care by the clinician. Some parents may have concerns that important information may be hidden from them. However, it is important to note that if a teen talks about concerns related to physical harm, such as harming themselves, planning to harm someone else, or that someone is harming them, this information is not kept secret and the physician works with the teen to identify next steps in how to get them help in those situations.

Adolescent and young adult medicine physicians receive training on talking with patients about confidentiality and their rights as a patient, particularly for younger teens. These physicians also work with adolescent patients to consider ways to foster conversations with their parents about important topics, such as mental and reproductive health, so that parents can best support their teen and their health.

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The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, email reprints@jamanetwork.com.
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Article Information

Published Online: March 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0311

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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