Choosing a pediatrician can be daunting. Here are tips to find the right doctor for you and your baby.
Your baby is due in the next few weeks, and worry starts to set in. What will I do if my child gets sick? Who can I turn to for reliable advice?
Experts say it's a good idea to actively look for a pediatrician who is not only competent but is agreeable to you. After all, this person will be your healthcare soulmate -- the one who will patiently answer when your little one has a high fever and won't stop crying. You'll need to feel comfortable enough with this doctor to discuss your kid's ailments, immunizations, thumb sucking, bed-wetting, and developmental changes during puberty.
Step 1: Check a Pediatrician's Credentials
The best time to start searching for a pediatrician is in the last few weeks before your expected due date, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Families that move or change insurance are encouraged to find a doctor well before the child needs a checkup or becomes sick.
To find a good doctor, it's always nice to get positive referrals from family and friends. If that fails, ask your ob-gyn or primary care doctor for suggestions. There are also printed guides on the topic. The AAP's Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 and The Mother's Almanac by Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons are two books recommended by Philip Itkin, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in private practice at the Omaha Children's Clinic, P.C.
Parents are also advised to check credentials, which are usually displayed on the practitioner's office wall. Appropriate training in pediatrics involves medical school and at least three years of residency in either pediatrics or family medicine. After that, many doctors take a test given by the American Board of Pediatrics or the American Board of Family Medicine, and if they pass, become board certified. Web sites for most insurance companies list the credentials of physicians in their plan.
It is possible to be a good doctor without this certification, says Itkin, but having it demonstrates a certain knowledge base; likewise, being a Fellow of the AAP (FAAP) or American Academy of Family Practice (FAAFP) shows that the pediatrician is likely current on medical issues.
Step 2: Do the Footwork to Find a Pediatrician
During her eighth month of pregnancy, Lilybell Nakamura wanted to find a pediatrician she felt comfortable with, who was accessible for checkups and emergency visits. So the 29-year-old human resources professional made appointments to talk with several doctors.
"I sat in the waiting room, and kept my eyes and ears open," Nakamura says, taking note of kids' reactions upon seeing the doctor. When she met with the doctors, she asked them about their experience and tried to get to know them. Ultimately, she chose a practice with four well-qualified pediatricians, with one always on call.
Nakamura's strategy of meeting face-to-face with practitioners is one the AAP recommends. The organization suggests that parents draft a list of questions before an interview. These may include:
- What is your pediatric background?
- Do you have a subspecialty or area of pediatric interest? If so, what is it?
- How do I reach you after hours or during an emergency?
- To what hospital do you admit patients?
- If I have a minor question, when is the best time to call?
- If I cannot speak with you, who will handle my questions?
- Is there anything you would like to know about my family?
It is also a good idea to ask how many doctors are in the office, if your child will be able to see the same practitioner for well and for sick visits, and how long routine appointments are, says A. Todd Davis, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says some people like to ask about the doctor's age, if they prefer to have their children grow up with the same practitioner.
Step 3: Assess Your Feelings About a Pediatrician
The bond between the parent and pediatrician is a critical one. A doctor may be well-qualified, but experts say if a parent doesn't have confidence in the physician, it may affect the welfare of the child.
"In that case, it's better for both parties to move on," says Itkin. He remarks that it's OK for parents to look for doctors that match their styles. "We all have our own personalities."
Lynette Ursal realized this after she switched pediatricians for her 2-year-old daughter. Although she had never doubted the former doctor's credentials, she felt irritated every time that practitioner gave her advice. "It was the way she talked to me; I didn't like it, like I was a little girl who didn't know what I was doing," Ursal explains.
The 25-year-old mother says she is happy with her daughter's new pediatrician and feels comfortable with that doctor's recommendations.