As parents, we want nothing less than the best for our children. Whether that is regarding opportunities, relationships, education, or healthcare, we make every choice for their benefit. Choosing a pediatrician is one of the most critical tasks we have as parents.
Your child’s pediatrician will be their primary healthcare provider for eighteen years, often making them the longest professional medical relationship your child will ever have. The foundation the pediatrician sets, provide your child with health tools that last a lifetime.
Specialized training allows pediatricians to understand human development, health, and illnesses from birth through adolescence and even into young adulthood. Ideally, you’ll find a pediatrician when your child is born, and that provider will remain with your child until they’re ready for an adult physician.
Choosing your baby’s first pediatrician seems like a daunting task, but it is a lot easier if you know what to look for.
Start your search before your baby’s birth and build your relationship with the pediatrician while you’re still pregnant.
Find out if they can be present at your child’s birth or how soon after they’ll meet your baby, so they have first-hand knowledge of your child’s health from day one. That connection provides parents, child, and provider the opportunity to grow and learn together.
Sometimes circumstances change, and you might find yourself needing a new pediatrician. Perhaps you’ve taken a job in a new town and cannot travel to your current medical providers. Maybe they will retire. For whatever reason, you’ll need to know what to look for in a pediatrician.
If your current pediatrician is leaving the area, they might recommend who can take over care of your children. A trusted colleague usually means a great referral, and if they’re in the same practice, your child’s continuity of care remains intact.
If you’ve moved to a new community, finding a pediatrician could be more difficult. Friends and family in the area can tell you who they use and like, or you can join online or in-person groups to ask for recommendations from community members.
Personal recommendations mean a lot because you can ask for details about their experiences with the provider and learn whether they’re highly skilled, good communicators, and proactive in their care practices.
Searching for Qualified Pediatricians
Sometimes there isn’t anyone to ask for a referral, and that’s okay. It isn’t the end of the search. There are many resources available to help you find a highly-qualified pediatrician.
Start with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their Find a Pediatrician tool provides several search options, including zip code, city and state, doctor name, specialties, and even doctor searches by language spoken.
We suggest you look for several criteria with a pediatrician:
- Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as noted by FAAP behind their name
- Up to date on current child health practices
- Active PALS Certification (Pediatric Advanced Life Support)
If you live near a major medical center, teaching hospital, or community hospital, their department of pediatrics can tell you the names of pediatricians in the area. They may have restrictions regarding formal recommendations, but having a list of names is a good start.
Your OB/GYN has a lot of experience with pediatricians, and they can provide recommendations for you as well. They’ll have a good idea of which pediatricians are familiar with families with similar health concerns to yours and can guide your decision.
What does Qualified Pediatrician Mean?
It’s one thing to know you need a qualified pediatrician, but what does qualified really mean? Training, certifications, memberships, and more lead to a status of “qualified.”
Some of these considerations include:
- Board Certified
- FAAP Member
- PALS Certified
- Pediatric Hematology-Oncology
- Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP)
- General Pediatrics from the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP)
- Certification in Pediatrics from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
- Specialty certifications such as training to detect abnormal heart rhythms
A general pediatrician treats children’s physical, emotional, and social health at the most basic level of care. Specialized pediatricians practice neurology, oncology, endocrinology, cardiology, and more.
For most pediatric patients, a general pediatrician provides adequate care. A highly trained and efficient pediatrician will notice abnormalities in your child’s health profile that might suggest a specialty pediatrician should become involved in their care.
Interviewing a Pediatrician
Today’s parents are more aware than ever that our medical providers are people we hire, and we have control over who we choose to provide our medical care. Pediatricians work for you and your child, so you should interview them to decide if they meet your family’s needs.
Schedule an initial visit to establish your child as a new patient when you find a provider. This consultation is your opportunity to learn as much as you can about the doctor while they learn about your child’s needs.
Prepare several questions before the appointment:
- Where did you attend medical school and residency training?
- Are you currently authorized to work at the hospital? If my child becomes hospitalized, are you able to provide their care?
- How do you handle patient phone calls and return those? Does your nurse get back to patients quickly?
- Are there other physicians in your practice? Who is available for my child’s care if you are on vacation or otherwise unavailable?
- What happens if my child becomes acutely unwell? Is there urgent care, or can we get a same-day appointment?
- How do you interact with any specialists my child might need? Do you collaborate with the specialist, or do you prefer they handle all my child’s unique needs?
From the office staff, you’ll want to verify that they accept your health insurance, what their billing practices are, and their office hours.
Other Qualities in a Good Pediatrician
Outside of the requirements for certification and advancement, your pediatrician is a part of your child’s overall welfare. While their medical expertise is important, so is their ability to earn your trust.
Some of the qualities you want to consider in a pediatrician are:
- Are they approachable? What kind of response do you get from them when you ask questions about your child’s healthcare? Are they friendly, open-minded, and supportive when you ask for more information, or do they cut you off and expect you not to ask questions?
- How much information do they provide? Do they offer a diagnosis without details? A prescription without explaining the purpose and side effects? Do they explain a situation thoroughly, so you clearly understand your child’s health? Do they provide printed resources and support?
- How much time do they spend in the appointment with your child? Do they quickly glance at the child and then spend all their time talking? Do they make quick decisions without making a thorough exam? Do they listen to the child’s concerns directly? Is the child the focus of the appointment?
- How collaborative will they be with your child’s specialists? Will they work together as a medical team to maintain continuity of care, or will they step back and leave all decisions solely to the specialist? Will they reach out to specialists for a follow-up? Will they listen to specialist concerns and adjust day-to-day care accordingly?
Ask the pediatrician what their philosophy of care looks like and how their experiences inform their decisions. Have them explain what pediatricians do, how they use their skill and training to meet those care goals, and what that means for your child specifically.
Each physician has an expectation for how frequently they should see your child and what those appointments entail. Ask about:
- How often does my child need well-child visits?
- What is your view on vaccines and delayed vaccine schedules?
- What are your beliefs about breastfeeding versus formula?
- How often do you prescribe antibiotics instead of allowing an illness to run its course?
- What circumstances warrant further testing or referrals to specialists?
- How will you manage long-term care considerations and chronic diseases?
- How do you remember each patient?
- How will you prioritize my child during our appointments?
How Do I Know I Found the Right Pediatrician?
By considering all the questions about their bedside manner, clinical methods, care philosophy, and qualifications, you’ll have a pretty good idea if this pediatrician is the “one.”
Recommendations have tremendous value for getting started, but the ultimate deciding factor often comes down to one thing: gut instinct.
If you’ve found a pediatrician who hits all the marks for qualifications and characteristics, but you don’t feel right about the relationship somehow, it is okay to seek an alternative practitioner.
Conversely, if you’ve met with a practitioner who doesn’t hold each of the qualifications you seek or has a few differences than you prefer, but you have a good feeling about working with them, that could mean they’re the best pediatrician for your family.
There’s no one single correct answer for the best pediatrician for you because each child is so different from another.