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Finding and Choosing a Pediatric Oncologist

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on July 16, 2020

If your child is diagnosed with cancer, you want the right doctor treating them. But how do you know what to look for or where to begin? There’s a lot to consider.

What Do Pediatric Oncologists Do?

Pediatric oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating children and young adults who have cancer. They manage your child’s care and coordinate treatment options depending on your child’s diagnosis. Your family will depend on them to:

  • Explain your child’s diagnosis
  • Talk to you in detail about the treatment options
  • Help your child manage symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment
  • Inform you if the stage of the cancer changes

Given the importance of all these things, you need to have someone that you have confidence in and that has the right personality and approach for your family. You want your child to have quality and compassionate care.

Keep in Mind

Anyone who treats your child should:

  • Have the experience you’re looking for
  • Accept your health insurance
  • Speak languages you know
  • Work with hospitals you have confidence in and access to
  • Have good people skills
  • Make you and your child feel safe

How to Find a Pediatric Oncologist in Your Area

You might feel a little lost when you first start to search for a doctor to help treat your child’s cancer. But there are many ways to find pediatric oncologists.

Ask your primary doctor for referrals or recommendations. You can ask your health insurance company for a list of pediatric oncologists in your plan, and you can also call local hospitals. If you have any friends or family in the area who have a child go through cancer treatment, talk to them about their experience with finding a doctor.

You can also do some online research. Start with medical association databases. Associations with free directories include:

  • The American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • The American Board of Medical Specialties
  • The American College of Surgeons

Once you have some names, you may also be able to find reviews of doctors online.

Education and training for a pediatric oncologist

Check credentials. Pediatric oncologists are required to have:

  • A Doctor of Medicine, or MD, degree
  • 3 years in a residency training in pediatrics, or medical care of infants, children, and adolescents
  • 3 years of fellowship training in pediatric oncology
  • Certification from the American Board of Pediatrics

Some pediatric oncologists have more certifications. Look at where they went to school and how long they’ve been doing this work.

Before Choosing a Pediatric Oncologist

Once you’ve done a little homework:

  • Make a list of oncologists who might be a good fit.
  • Compare each doctor’s credentials.
  • Find out which doctors participate in your health insurance plan.
  • Call the oncologist’s office and ask if they’re taking new patients
  • Talk with the doctors’ support staff, which may include a registered nurse, a social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist, and counselor.

Make an appointment to talk with the doctors you think may be a good fit.

Ask questions

By asking the right questions, you can find out a lot about their training, experience, people skills, approach with children, and schedule. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • How long have you practiced pediatric oncology?
  • How many patients do you treat each year?
  • How many children have you treated with my child’s type of cancer?
  • How can I contact you?
  • Can I contact you after hours, on weekends, or on holidays?
  • Will my child get treatment at your office or at another location?
  • If at another location, where is it located?
  • Are you affiliated with a specific oncology center? Which one?
  • How do you stay informed on the most recent research therapies and clinical trials?
  • Do you actively look for clinical trials for your patients?
  • Do you work with a social services team that can help families with transportation and financial assistance?

Evaluate your options

Think through your experience with each pediatric oncologist. Did they:

  • Listen to you?
  • Respect you?
  • Spend enough time with you?
  • Answer your questions?
  • Explain things in a way you can understand?

Narrow your list to the doctors who made you feel the most comfortable and supported. Talk it through with your pediatrician, family, and friends. Together, you’ll make the best choice for your child.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cancer.Net: “Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care,” “Types of Oncologists.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “What is a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist?”

American Cancer Society: “Choosing a Doctor and a Hospital.”

Cook Children’s: “Selecting a Specialist.”

Boston Children’s Dana Farber Institute: “What Specialists Does a Child See When Diagnosed with Cancer?”

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