When it comes to your child’s health, deciding on a pediatrician is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make.
Ideally the doctor you choose should be someone who becomes your trusted partner—empowering you with information and know-how while also encouraging you to make the best decisions for your child.
Here are some simple steps to make sure you find the perfect fit for your family.
Get a referral from another doctor.
A study in the journal Pediatrics found that 20 percent of new moms said they didn’t receive any advice from their doctors on breast-feeding or baby’s sleep position. More than 50 percent said they weren’t advised on sleep location or pacifier use.
On your search, look for a pediatrician who has the time to address your concerns both during and outside of visits, if necessary.
Ask family or friends who they like and read online reviews. One of the best ways to find a great doctor is to ask other doctors or nurses who they use for their own children, said Dr. Meg Meeker, a board-certified pediatrician in Traverse City, Mich. and spokesperson for Infant Nutrition Council of America.
“If you start just with your friends, you might end up with just a nice person but you won’t necessarily know that they’re the smartest person,” she said.
Look for board certification.
Check the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org site to make sure your candidate is board-certified. Pediatricians who are board-certified have three years of training— on top of medical school— and must make an on-going commitment to learning after they pass their boards.
If the doctor isn’t board-certified, make sure that they’re working towards certification.
“I wouldn’t necessarily not go to a pediatrician who is not board-certified, but if they never pass their boards that’s a big red flag,” Meeker said.
Ask for an interview.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to two or three doctors, ask to set up a free appointment to interview them. The interview is a great opportunity to learn about the pediatrician’s communication style, if she has special interests such as obesity or nutrition, which age groups she prefers to work with and at which hospitals she has admitting privileges.
Most importantly, it’s your opportunity to see if the pediatrician shares your philosophy on topics like feeding, antibiotic use and discipline strategies.
Get clear on the immunization policy.
Vaccines in particular have been a hot button issue in recent months, as more pediatricians have been turning away patients who opt out. Make sure you’re clear on the doctor’s policy and find out if he’s ok with spacing out vaccines, if that’s what you prefer.
“If they have concerns about it, they need to choose a pediatrician who’s going to have the empathy and patience to discuss those concerns without shaming the parent or making the parent feel stupid,” said Tara Haelle, a science and health journalist in Peoria, Ill. and co-author of “The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child's First Four Years.”
Know what the pediatrician offers.
Ask about the pediatrician’s hours and if she offers evening, weekend and holiday appointments.
If your child is sick, find out if there is a separate waiting room for sick children and
if you’ll be seen within a few hours of calling in. Urgent care isn’t always the best option since most focus on treating adults, yet some pediatric groups have access to an auxiliary clinic for sick visits after hours.
If your child becomes sick during the night, ask if you’ll be able to speak to the on-call pediatrician from the same practice or if you’ll be routed to a nurse line. The latter is less preferable since nurses have a formulaic system rather than giving personalized advice, which an on-call pediatrician is more likely to do, Meeker said.
Remember that doctors are people, too!
According to a study in the Journal of Men’s Health, most doctors who were circumcised were in support of circumcision while most who were uncircumcised were opposed to the practice.
While you probably don’t want to ask the pediatrician if he’s been circumcised or not, your doctor should know how to care for an uncircumcised penis if that’s what you decided to do.
“Knowing that that bias exists is important because it tells you that doctors are humans and they’re subject to the same bias as everyone else,” Haelle said.
When it comes to your child’s pediatrician, she may not have all the answers, but she should take the time to listen, value your opinions and make you a better parent.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.