Shopping for a Pediatrician

Last Editorial Review: 4/28/2005

 Choosing a pediatrician may fill you with anxiety or dread, but it shouldn't. Here are some tips for helping you choose.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Haines

Your baby is due in the next few weeks, and worry starts to set in. Will I be a good parent? What will I do if my child gets sick? Who can I turn to for reliable advice?

Rest assured, many new parents fret about such matters. So relax and do what you would normally do in a crisis -- shop!

Experts say it's a good idea to actively look for a doctor that is not only competent but is agreeable to you. After all, this person will be your health care soul mate -- the one you will call at 2 a.m. when the 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 changes during puberty. (Gasp!) But we may be rushing things a bit.

For now, let's concentrate on how to choose a doctor that's right for you and your family.

Step 1: Check 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 who 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.

It is possible to be a good doctor without this certification, says Itkin, but having it demonstrates a certain knowledge base. Likewise does being a Fellow of the AAP (FAAP) or American Academy of Family Practice (FAAFP). Members of these academies receive vital educational and support materials that keep doctors current on medical issues.

Step 2: Do the Footwork

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 physicians, 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 that 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 or 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 that 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

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 him or her, 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 recently 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.

For more information on finding a pediatrician, tap into, and type "Finding a Pediatrician" in the search engine.

Originally published Feb. 10, 2003.

Medically updated February 2005.

SOURCES: Philip Itkin, MD, FAAP, pediatrician, Omaha Children's Clinic, P.C. Lilybell Nakamura. A. Todd Davis, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Lynette Ursal.

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors