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Doctors & Hospitals


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Say the word doctor, and what pops into your head?  Yucky pink medicine? Pointy needles? Really scary thoughts?

Well, maybe a checkup can change your mind. "Thinking about the doctor is probably much scarier than going the doctor's," says Dr. White, a doctor in Pennsylvania who sees lots of kid patients.

When you go to the doctor for a regular checkup, it's because your doctor simply wants to see if you're growing and developing normally. During your visit, your doctor will probably ask how you're doing in school and whether you're happy. This visit also gives you - and your mom and dad - time to ask questions about your changing body, seatbelts, bike helmets, drugs, smoking, or pretty much anything else bumping around in your mind.

At the Office
A checkup starts with a nurse who will call you from the doctor's waiting room into the exam room. There, the nurse will measure your weight and height to see how much you have grown since your last visit. "We want to make sure that you're eating right," Dr. White says. Then it's time to meet the doctor.

The Doctor
At a regular checkup, your doctor wants to make sure all your parts are in working order. To do this, he or she will use several tools to measure such things as your temperature, blood pressure, and reflexes. The doctor will put these numbers and information in your medical chart so that he or she will have a record of how your body looks - inside and out. Here's what the doctor will be checking out:

  • Blood pressure: Your blood pressure shows how hard your heart is pumping blood throughout your body. To measure it, the doctor will seal a cuff around the top part of your arm. Using a pump, the doctor will blow air into the cuff, which then will tighten around your arm like a little balloon. When the balloon begins to lose air, the doctor will watch the numbers on the meter to make sure the pressure isn't too high or too low.

  • Body temperature: Normal body temperature falls in a range from 97 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1 to 37.5 degrees Celsius). If it is higher, it means that you have a fever and your body is working to fight off infection. The doctor will put a thermometer in your mouth or ear to get this number.

  • Heart and lungs: The doctor will press the round, cool part of the stethoscope against your chest  to hear your heart and against your back to examine your lungs. When the doctor listens to your heart, he or she will hear a sound like "lub-a-dub, lub-a-dub," which will let him or her know that blood is pumping through your heart correctly. The doctor will also listen to how fast your heart beats, or feel your pulse.

    "Doctors want to listen to see if your blood is running in the right direction, and to see if your heart is making any unusual sounds that need to be looked at more," Dr. White says.

    When your doctor is listening to your lungs, he or she will ask you to take several deep breaths, to hear if air is moving in and out of your lungs OK.

  • Reflexes: "Kids always think this is the weirdest - and funniest - part of an exam," Dr. White says. With a tiny rubber hammer, the doctor will tap the joints of your arms and legs, which will jerk forward without you even trying to move them. By testing your reflexes, the doctor is making sure that the nerves that carry messages from your brain to your muscles and organs are working right.

  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat: The doctor will use an otoscope, a tool which can be used to shine light into your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. This helps the doctor see the part of your ear that allows you to hear. The doctor can also shine the light into your mouth to check for a sore throat. "We also like to check out your teeth while we're there," Dr. White says, "to look for any missing ones or decay."
  • Genital exam: To make sure everything is developing OK, your doctor will check out your penis or vagina. Some kids feel funny about this; that's OK, but you should know that the doctor is just making sure you're healthy.

  • Spine: Your doctor will ask you to bend over so he or she can check your spine to make sure it's straight. A curved spine could mean that you have scoliosis.

  • Hearing tests: Using a machine that sends out high and low frequency sounds, the doctor or nurse will ask you to raise your hand to show when you hear something. It's OK not to hear every noise - the doctor just wants to know what you can hear.

  • Immunizations: Going to the doctor doesn't mean you're going to get stuck with a needle. But there are regular immunizations (a fancy word for shots) that will help keep you from getting sick from some infectious diseases, such as measles. By the time you turned 2, you had most of the shots you'll need: hepatitis B, diptheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP), Hemophilus influenzae (Hib), polio, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and a shot to keep you from getting chicken pox. Most of the shots after these were boosters to provide extra protection. You probably won't get another booster until age 12. (Unless, of course, you get sick, have a special medical problem, or you're taking a trip outside the United States to certain countries.)

  • Vision screening: The doctor will have you read a chart with letters. Usually, you cover one eye and read, then do the same with the other. If the doctor thinks you might need glasses or you have some other problem, he or she may send you to an eye doctor to check things out further.

  • Blood tests: The doctor may want to check your blood every once in a while to make sure nothing is wrong. The doctor may check for anemia (low blood count) or other blood tests. In order to do this, blood may be taken from your finger or arm with a needle.
  • General Questions
    Your doctor will also have some questions at the end of your checkup about safety issues, like if you always wear a seatbelt during car rides. He or she might also ask if you and your parents have talked about why smoking and drugs are bad for you.

    But it isn't only the doctor who gets to ask questions. You should bring your own, too. Growing pains, any trouble you have reading the blackboard at school, or concerns about homework or life at home can all be talked over with your doctor.

    Healthy kids between the ages of 5 and 10 probably only need to see a doctor every other year. Getting a regular checkup when you're not sick helps keep you healthy. It also helps you to know your doctor better, so that when you are sick, he or she will have the best information about you to get you better fast.

    When you think about it, going to the doctor for a regular checkup isn't really scary at all. In fact, it's pretty smart!

    Updated and reviewed by: Kim Rutherford, MD
    Date reviewed: June 2001
    Originally reviewed by:
    Steve Dowshen, MD

    You might go to the hospital if you fall off your bike and break your arm, or if you have asthma and have trouble breathing. You might go to the hospital if you need special medicine that can't be given at home, or if you need to have surgery to take out your tonsils.

    It may seem a little scary to go to a hospital, but people who work at hospitals, like doctors or nurses, are there to help people who are sick or hurt feel better. Read on to find out what happens inside a hospital.

    There are two ways to be admitted to a hospital. Your doctor might send you because he or she needs to find out about something going on inside your body or because you need special medicine, surgery, or other treatment for health problems. Your doctor will call the hospital to tell them that you're coming, and someone will meet you there to take you to your room.

    The other way kids are admitted to a hospital is through the emergency room. You might go to the emergency room if you are very sick, especially if your doctor or parent feels that you need medical attention right away. If you need to sleep at the hospital, a nurse or doctor will take you and your parents to your hospital room.

    When you go into the hospital, you will probably see your mom or dad fill out a lot of different papers. It's important that the hospital has your name, address, phone number, and other information, like if you have any allergies. You might be asked a lot of questions (sometimes again and again) like your name, your birthday, and how you are feeling. If you don't understand a question, you should ask your parents or a nurse to explain.

    Your Room
    Sometimes you will have a room all to yourself, or sometimes you will share one with another kid. Your room will have a bed, with buttons to push that will make the bed move up or down. A curtain can be pulled around your bed so that you can have some privacy while you're resting or changing clothes. There are usually lights that you can turn on and off, and there is a special button to push that will call the nurse if you need anything. You'll probably have a bathroom in your room.

    You'll probably also have a TV and a telephone in your room to help you keep busy while you're in the hospital.

    Your Clothes
    In many hospitals, you can wear anything you want - like your own pajamas or bathrobe. Sometimes you might have to wear a special hospital gown that makes it easier for the doctor or nurse to examine you.

    Your Family
    Almost every hospital will let one or both of your parents stay with you all the time, even while you're sleeping in your room. During the day, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and friends can visit, and you'll have a phone to call people you want to talk to. You can always have things in the hospital that remind you of home, like pictures of your family, stuffed animals, books, or toys.

    Hospital People
    There are lots of people you will meet in the hospital, from the moment you arrive until you're ready to leave. You might meet as many as 50 people just on your first day!

    Girl and nurse

    First, you'll probably meet a nurse, who will admit you to the hospital, take you to your room, and show you around the hospital floor so you'll know where things are.

    Next, you might see your own doctor, as well as a medical student (someone who is learning to be a doctor). You also might see a specialist - that's a person who is an expert in a certain kind of medical problem or part of the body. If you are in the hospital because you are having trouble with your asthma, for example, you might see a lung specialist or allergist who will help you with your breathing.

    You might also meet a child life specialist - that's a person whose job it is to make sure that kids in the hospital understand what's going on and help them feel more comfortable about their hospital stays.

    There are even more people you might see! Transport people will take you from place to place; volunteers bring newspapers to parents or play with kids in the playroom; and therapists will show you how to use pieces of equipment, like crutches, if you need them.

    Having Surgery
    If you have surgery, you will meet an anesthesiologist before the operation. His or her job is to help you sleep with anesthesia. This way you won't feel anything while your doctor operates on you.

    On the day of surgery, you won't be able to eat breakfast because you can't have an operation on a full stomach. But you might get fluids through your IV so you won't get hungry or thirsty. An IV is a tiny tube that carries medicine or fluids into your body through a vein, usually in your arm or hand.

    A nurse will wheel you on a special bed to the operating room, where you'll go to sleep. The hospital staff will explain what will happen and what you'll need to do. If you have any questions, you should always ask!

    When you wake up, you'll either be back in your room or in a special recovery room - that's a room where nurses can keep checking on you to make sure you're OK.

    Getting Tests
    You will probably get some tests taken while you're in the hospital. Sometimes the tests are done on blood taken from a vein in your arm - that can pinch a little, but it won't hurt much. Sometimes the tests are taken with an X-ray, where a special camera takes a picture of a part of your body. This helps doctors see the bones and tissues inside your body.

    If there is a test you don't understand, you should ask the doctor or nurse to explain it to you.

    Keeping Busy
    Most hospitals have playrooms, where you'll find toys, crafts, and games. Someone will be there to help you find something to do. If you can't go to the playroom, someone can bring you things to play with. Most hospitals have televisions or video games, and many have computers (with games!) that can be brought to your bed. Also, most hospitals may have special visitors, like clowns or story characters.

    Being Nervous
    It's normal to be a little nervous when going to the hospital. But remember:

    • Your family will be with you.
    • There are other kids in the hospital who are probably going through the same kind of thing.
    • There are lots of people, like doctors and nurses, to answer any questions you might have. Don't be afraid to ask!
    • You can have things that remind you of home, like your own pillow, stuffed animals, books, toys, or games.
    • One nice thing about being in the hospital: lots of kids get flowers, balloons, cards, gifts, and candies.

    Updated and reviewed by: Kim Rutherford, MD
    Date reviewed: June 2001
    Originally reviewed by:
    Steve Dowshen, MD, and Lisa Zaoutis, MD

    KidsHealth is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida. Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children