• Sara Silvestri, MD FAAP

6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Pediatrician

Parents have to make a lot of tough choices. One of the earliest decisions a parent will

make is who they will choose to be their child’s doctor. It’s not an easy decision and every child and every family has different needs that must be considered.

Most primary care for children will be delivered by Pediatricians with Family Practice Physicians making up the next largest percentage. Both Pediatricians and Family Practice physicians have completed 4 years of medical school and 3 years of residency training. Residency for Pediatricians is specifically focused on caring for patients from newborn to early 20s. This includes exposure to inpatient and outpatient pediatrics as well as rotating through several pediatric subspecialties. Residency for Family Practice physicians includes training for the treatment of all age groups as well as obstetrics and gynecology. A plus to seeing a Family Practice doctor is that your child will never “grow out” of their pediatrician. A study published in the September/October 2019 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine entitled “Change in Site of Children’s Primary Care: A Longitudinal Population-Based Analysis” showed that over time, family practice physicians are seeing fewer pediatric patients. Therefore, this article will focus on choosing a Pediatrician, but many of the same principles would apply to Family Practice physicians.

I’m frequently asked by friends and family who I would recommend and I’m lucky that I know many of the pediatricians in my area and can give personal recommendations. What happens if you don’t though? Consider these important factors to help you choose the right doctor for your family.

1. Start with the basics

A good place to start is determining where the pediatric offices are around you. Determine how far you would be willing to drive to see a doctor and bear in mind that not all visits will be planned months in advance. From there, look at the hours. If you are a parent who works long hours, a practice that is only open from 9-5 may not be the best fit for you. You may need a practice that has extended evening hours or weekend hours. It’s also important to determine if a practice takes your insurance.

2. Research the Staff

Most pediatric practices now have websites that will give short biographies for their staff. Again, there can be many personal beliefs that play a role in this area. Some families are most comfortable only seeing one or two doctors who will get to know their children very well and would do better with a small practice. Other families are more open to seeing many different doctors at various times and therefore would not be deterred by large practices. You can also see if the staff includes Nurse Practitioners or Physician Assistants. Many offices will provide biographies which will let you know where their staff trained, if they have any fellowship training, which is extra training beyond residency, as well as if they are board certified. Some children as they age are more comfortable seeing physicians of the same gender and therefore looking for male:female ratios of practices may be helpful.

3. Ask around

We ask for restaurant and movie recommendations all of the time. It’s great to ask friends and families for recommendations on Pediatricians also. Ask them specific questions too. How long do you have to wait for an appointment when you call? Do you feel that the doctor spends time with you and listens? How do their children relate to the doctor?

4. Decide what you want and what you need

It can be helpful to take some time and determine what kind of patient or parent you are and what specific traits you may be looking for in a doctor. Since I’m an adoptive mother, it’s important to me that I have resources, physicians included, who are sensitive to the special needs of adopted or foster children. Maybe your child has an underlying medical condition and you would be more comfortable with a physician who has treated numerous children with that problem. Even early on, mothers who are devoted to breast feeding may be more comfortable in practices that have extra support for breastfeeding mothers, such as lactation consultations. You may be on the opposite end and be an experienced mother who just wants some support and basic care.

5. Schedule interviews with your top candidates

Most pediatric practices are happy to schedule an appointment to get to know the physician and tour the office to help you make a decision. This gives you the opportunity to not only meet the physician and see the office, but also gain the experience of a patient. Were you able to park close to the building or would you have to carry a child far? How long did you wait in the waiting room? Was the staff friendly? Did the office seem clean? Most importantly, did you like the doctor? Did you feel comfortable? Be prepared with a list of questions to ask the doctor:

  • How do they handle after hour calls?

  • Do they round at the hospital for newborns or if a child is admitted?

  • Do they have technology to allow you to reach the physician outside of phone calls?

  • Do they do any testing in the office or would you have to go elsewhere to get testing done?

  • How long are their appointments?

  • Do they accept walk-in patients?

  • What is their philosophy on matters that you may feel strongly about (vaccines, sleep training, antibiotics, breastfeeding, etc.)?

  • What makes their practice unique?

6. Don't be afraid to break up

Most of us don't marry the first person we date. It's okay to choose a doctor and determine over time that it's not a good match. You need to feel that you can communicate well with the doctor, that you have trust in him or her and that your concerns are being addressed. If for any reason you find that your doctor or your doctor's practice do not mesh well with your family, do not be afraid to move on and try again.

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