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New moms: How comfortable are you with your child’s doctor?

It’s such a big decision, selecting the doctor who will potentially take care of your child from birth until adulthood. While it may feel like a daunting task, just knowing the right questions to ask can go a long way in helping you find the best fit for you and your child.

I hope my answers to the following common questions will help guide you through the process.

Why is getting a pediatrician important compared to a family practice doctor?

I know many excellent family practice doctors, but pediatricians have three years of specialized training in dealing only with children. In our practice, we see kids all day long, and just like every other field, doctors learn by experience. If you’ve seen something before, you’ll know what to do the next time it happens.

What should parents look for when choosing a pediatrician?

Most importantly, parents need to feel comfortable being completely honest with their child’s pediatrician. This is someone they’re going to need to trust with their child’s health, and we can’t provide your child the best care if we don’t know the whole story. A good doctor is not going to judge you or your child.

Also, parents should look for a doctor who is willing to act like a partner to them. We know that parents today are well-informed and want to have a say. Sure, pediatricians are the experts on children’s medical care, but parents are the experts on their kids. You need to be able to say, “Hey, I don’t think that idea is going to work for my child,” and have the doctor take that into account.

You should share similar views as your pediatrician on most subjects regarding medical issues, and when you don’t agree, the doctor should show respect for your beliefs. This usually comes up with big issues like vaccines, cultural beliefs, or homeschooling.

You should feel comfortable with your pediatrician’s style. For example, some doctors are more formal in their interactions with families and some are informal. I tend to be very relaxed and casual, which I believe most of my families like, but there are some who prefer a more formal relationship.

It’s a good sign if a pediatrician is willing to meet with you before your child is born. Some doctors won’t do these “meet and greets” because they are not billable, but picking a pediatrician is a tough choice. It’s ridiculous to expect parents to pick a name from an insurance list and wait until the doctor shows up after the birth of their child to find out if they like him or her.

You should also make sure that your doctor is board-certified (completed a pediatric residency after medical school and passed a licensing exam specific to pediatricians) or board-eligible (completed a pediatric residency but have not yet passed the pediatric boards).

Other considerations are location, and whether the pediatrician is also a parent. It is totally OK to ask this.

How can parents best help a pediatrician care for their child?

Be honest with us about what’s going on. Don’t be embarrassed. Trust me, we really have heard it all. Be on time for your appointments so you can get the most out of your visit. If you don’t agree with something the pediatrician advises or don’t understand something, speak up! The last thing I would want is for parents to agree to something and leave my office bewildered or with no intention of doing what I recommended.

What are some good resources parents can consult when looking for a pediatrician?

You can check the websites of local health organizations, since most have biographies and videos of each of their doctors. You can often search by location, gender, languages spoken, etc. Online reviews can be helpful, and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for parents can provide good information, too.

Should parents feel OK with talking to pediatricians about non-medical issues as well?

Absolutely! We routinely ask families about these issues as part of well-child care since they are so important. Social issues can have a huge impact on a child’s physical health, and pediatricians also care for the mental well-being of the child. For example, if your child is being bullied or you’re having a hard time setting limits for TV or video game time, talk to your pediatrician. We have spoken with many families about these issues before and usually have some good tips, and can help you decide whether the issue is more serious than just “kids being kids.”