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Pediatric Orthopaedics: Dr. David Roberts on the Rewards of His Unique Specialty

Friday, October 17, 2014 6:59 AM

For David Roberts, MD, Pediatric Orthopaedics at NorthShore, helping people was always the goal on the horizon, which is what ultimately brought him to medicine. Once there, it was the challenge and the enjoyment of treating children that brought him to pediatric orthopaedics.

Here, he explains the ins and outs of his unique specialty and how his experience as a father has informed the way he treats his patients and their parents:

What first attracted to you medicine? Was there something that inspired you to go into the field?
I chose a career in medicine because I wanted to help people. There wasn’t one specific moment of realization; it was always what I wanted to do with my life.

Why did you decide to pursue pediatric orthopaedics as a specialty?
I decided to become a pediatric orthopaedist during the middle of my orthopaedic surgery residency. During my training, I enjoyed all different areas of orthopaedics so it was hard to pick just one area! Pediatric orthopaedics is unique in that you take care of a variety of conditions affecting all areas of the body, from fractures and congenital anomalies, to scoliosis and spine conditions. It also covers a wide age range, from newborns to young adults. The diverse nature of pediatric orthopaedics is challenging but that’s also what I enjoy most about it. And, of course, kids are fun.

What do you like most about your job?
Seeing my patients get better. Often my patients are in pain or recovering from an injury when we first meet. Seeing them recover and get back to normal, being a part of that, is what I like best about my practice.

What do you find most challenging?
Encountering overuse injuries in young athletes is difficult. Young kids are increasingly involved in sports at "elite" levels, playing harder and longer than ever before. Overuse inevitably can lead to chronic and recurrent injuries of various types. Generally, the cure is simple—rest—but these are some of the hardest conditions to treat given the pressure from coaches, teammates, parents and even the children themselves. Fortunately with time, rest and realistic expectations, these conditions typically resolve and permit the child to fully return to activities.

What do you think is an essential skill of a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon?
You have to really enjoy working with children. Treating children is very different from treating adults. Children of different ages require different approaches at interview and examination, which represents the "art" of medicine. To be truly good at it this, you really have to like working with kids, and this is what I like most about my job.

How is treating orthopaedic cases in children different from adults?
Kids are not just little adults. From an orthopaedic perspective, treatment of children's conditions can be drastically different than in adults, and not just because we have more cast colors to choose from.

Unlike adults, children's bones are still growing, which means they require special respect and consideration during treatment for orthopaedic conditions. For example, fractures that typically require surgery for an adult may be treated without surgery in a child because of the ability to correct bone alignment over time with growth. Other injuries can potentially affect growth and require close monitoring over time for years after injury. Very young children also may require different treatment for the same type of injury in an adult because a child may be too young to follow treatment instructions.

Within pediatric orthopaedics, you specialize in scoliosis. What inspired this interest?
I specialized in scoliosis because of the positive impact surgery for this condition has on a patient's life. For many patients with severe scoliosis, the condition is more than just a curvature of the spine. Severe curves negatively affects self-esteem and body image, which are already vulnerable during the teenage years even for those without scoliosis. After surgery for scoliosis, these patients literally and figuratively stand taller and straighter. It can make a difference to the rest of their lives.

What are some of the biggest influences on the way you treat your patients?
My own experience as a parent has really informed my practice. Having a child gives you practical experience working with children but also the perspective of a parent. I believe it is my duty to care for your child as I would my own.