The New Parent’s Guide to Picking a Pediatrician
Congratulations! You are about to have a baby. The hospital bag is packed, the birth plan is written up and now it’s time to find a pediatrician. At minimum, your child will be at the pediatrician’s office some 15 visits before the age of 5, so it’s to your advantage to put some time and energy into finding the right one. As renowned pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears says, “Medical care is a partnership between parents and pediatricians. You owe it to your child to find a good partner.”
Your baby will be seen by the pediatrician in the hospital shortly after birth, so it’s important to have one in place prior to delivery. Dr. Elizabeth Musil, MD, a pediatrician at Olathe Health Pediatrics-Olathe Medical Park, shares, “A pediatrician will come see you and your new baby in the hospital, typically within 24 hours of birth, and then each day until you are discharged. We will answer your questions, see how feeding is going, and examine the baby to make sure they are healthy enough to go home.”
Pediatricians all go through rigorous medical training and are certified through the American Academy of Pediatrics. As such, they are equipped to assess the health of children from birth through adolescence. This does not mean, however, that they all have the same approach or philosophy toward health care. Evaluate what you’re looking for in a doctor as you begin researching and interviewing physicians—which ultimately means interviewing yourself first. Are you a first-time parent looking for a pediatrician who will not only give medical advice but also help you navigate various parenting philosophies? Or are you an established parent, confident in your parenting approach, just looking for a like-minded doctor? Are you willing to make a trek for a quality professional, or is proximity a higher priority? Do you or your child have any special accommodations that need to be taken into account? For instance, if your child has a medical condition, a pediatrician with a specialization in that condition can be very reassuring. Likewise, if you have a strong position on breastfeeding, circumcision or vaccinations, finding a pediatrician that supports you in your goals will serve you well.
Once you have those pieces in place, ask those you respect—friends, family, coworkers and neighbors—for referrals. You quickly may find one name rises to the top. But if you don’t, you always can inquire at your OB/GYN office for a list of recommendations or do a quick search to see which members of the American Academy of Pediatrics practice nearby (and remember to check the state’s medical board to see whether any candidates’ names have been written up for disciplinary actions). When you have a handful of names, schedule the interviews. Doctors expect to be interviewed but their time is limited, so be prepared to ask your high priority questions first.
Find out right up front by phone whether a pediatrician is taking new patients and also accepts your insurance (after all, nothing is more frustrating than finding Dr. Right only to realize your insurance is all wrong). Inquire about the practice and the doctor’s background. If you like what you hear, arrange an appointment to meet the doctor in person and ask additional questions.
“Prenatal visits are a great way to meet your child’s pediatrician and see the office before they are even born. It’s meant to be a casual meet-and-greet so you can let the pediatrician know what you’re looking for (if you know) and for them to talk you through questions/concerns you have,” adds Dr. Musil.
The following is a guide of questions to help you throughout the interviewing process.
For the Pediatrician
- Where did you attend medical school?
- Where did your residency take place?
- Do you have any specializations?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Is this a solo or group practice? If it’s a solo practice, who fills in when you are not available? If it’s a group practice, how many other doctors would we potentially see and how often would we be able to see you?
- What hospitals do you work in conjunction with?
- How do you respond to patients outside of visits?
- Will our first appointment be at the hospital after the baby is delivered or at the first checkup?
About the Practice
- What are the hours of operation?
- Is there any evening or weekend availability?
- Is there same-day availability?
- How far in advance do well visits need to be scheduled?
- What tests can be performed in-house and what needs to be done elsewhere?
- Are there additional charges for services such as medication refills, support calls after hours or initial visits?
- How quickly were you able to schedule the interview?
- Were you on hold for a long time when scheduling the appointment (or in subsequent phone calls)?
- Is the office clean? Did the waiting room appear kid-friendly? Are there toys or books available?
- How long did you have to wait in the waiting room?
- Are the office staff and nurses friendly and helpful?
- Did your appointment feel rushed?
- Was the doctor receptive to your concerns or priorities?
Arrive early for the appointment to get a feel for the office. Ask other parents in the waiting room what they like or dislike about the practice. Likewise, ask the office staff what the protocol is for handling children with contagious diseases. All too commonly, childbirth classes or parenting books recommend first-time parents ask whether or not a doctor’s office has both well-visit and sick patient waiting rooms. The reality is most offices do not provide separate rooms because, in practice, it just doesn’t work (for starters, no one wants to sit in the sick room). Ideally, the waiting room should be reserved for well visits, while sick children are expedited to examining rooms (preferably through a separate entrance).
Some parents may be reassured by a certain type of a doctor. A young female pediatrician, for instance, may seem very comforting, whereas an older gentleman may give off a wise grandfatherly disposition. Some parents take comfort in knowing that their child’s doctor is also a mom or a dad, combining both medical skill and parental insight. Because a relationship with a pediatrician can last into a child’s teens, you may wish to take into account gender (as a child ages, he/she may feel more comfortable with a doctor of the same gender). But, in the end, go with your gut. You’ll be sharing very personal concerns throughout your child’s visits. It’s important to feel those fall onto the ears of a trusted source.
Dr. Musil sums it up by stating that “choosing a pediatrician is a big deal and we are all honored that you trust us with your child’s care. I highly recommend scheduling those prenatal appointments. It’s great to get to know someone in a low pressure environment and figure out if you’re going to click.”
Lauren Greenlee is a freelance writer and mom of three hailing from Olathe.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.