Medical exam

Some children and youth who visit SeaStar may benefit from a specialized medical exam. This can be useful if there is a need to assess injuries, and/or provide reassurance that the child or youth’s body is healthy.

Medical exams at SeaStar are provided by the IWK Health Centre’s Suspected Trauma and Abuse Response Team (START).

START provides assessment, management, and treatment for children and youth when there is a concern of abuse. The team includes pediatricians with specific training in child abuse, a clinical nurse specialist, a social worker, and a clinical therapist. 

Not every child or youth who visits SeaStar will need a medical exam. This decision is made collaboratively by the medical team, in consultation with the investigators and family.

Urgent medical concerns should be directed to the IWK Emergency DepartmentIn cases of recent sexual assault, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) may provide care.

First, a nurse, social worker, or pediatrician from START will talk with you (the caregiver) and your child or youth about the exam and what to expect.

The nurse, social worker, or pediatrician will ask about the child’s full medical history to get a clear picture of the child’s health through their whole life, and will discuss any questions that you or your child you may have.

Next, the exam will include a full head-to-toe check-up, similar to a normal exam at a family doctor’s or pediatrician’s office. This will include listening to the child’s heart and lungs, looking in their eyes and ears, measuring their height and weight, and checking head-to-toe for any concerns. Some exams include a genital exam, which involves the doctor looking at the child’s genitals.

The check-up will not hurt, and the doctor or nurse will explain everything they are doing. If your child feels uncomfortable or needs to take a break at any time, they can say so. The medical team will help to ensure your child feels safe and comfortable the whole time.

Your child can decide who they would like to have with them during the exam. Some children want to have a caregiver or other support person with them, while others may be more comfortable in the exam alone.

After the exam, the medical team will discuss the results with you and your child, and answer any questions you have.

Specialized medical exams can be important in assessing and documenting injuries, and/or providing reassurance that a child’s body is healthy. It is rare, however, that a medical exam by itself will give an absolute answer about whether or not abuse happened. 

Sometimes, a medical exam will find signs or symptoms that are concerning for abuse. Sometimes these can have other possible explanations, meaning they may be related to abuse or they may not be. Sometimes a medical exam will be completely normal, finding nothing unusual.

Even if the exam is completely normal, this does not rule out that abuse may still have happened. There are lots of reasons why an exam can be normal after an experience of abuse. Often, it is still ‘normal to be normal.’

After the exam, the medical team will discuss the results with you and your child, and answer any questions you have.

If your child is scheduled to receive a medical exam, you can explain that this is to make sure that their body is ok and healthy. Assure your child that this exam will not hurt. 

Explain that they will meet a doctor or nurse, and the doctor or nurse will tell your child everything that they will be doing before the exam starts. Your child will have the chance to ask any questions they have.