Choosing a pediatrician is one of the most important decisions you’ll make regarding your child’s health, and it can be a difficult one.
A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in the physical, behavioral, and mental care of children.
They don’t just care for babies and toddlers, though. Pediatricians also care for adolescents up to age 18 and sometimes beyond.
They perform physical examinations and immunizations, monitor development, and diagnose and treat illnesses.
You’ll have a long-term relationship with your pediatrician, so it’s important to pick the right one.
If you’re expecting, you should choose one about 3 months before your due date.
With so many options in your area, how do you pick the right pediatrician? Here are a few factors to take into consideration.
1. Is the office location convenient?
As you narrow down your choices for a pediatrician, consider the location of the doctor’s office. Babies see their pediatrician a number of times during the first year of life — typically, every 2 to 3 months.
Choosing a doctor close to your home, work, or day care can be more convenient and save time.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can choose a doctor with offices easily accessible by public transportation.
2. Is the pediatrician recommended by your OB-GYN?
The good news is that you don’t have to choose a pediatrician alone.
Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll likely establish a friendly, trusting relationship with your OB-GYN. If this is the case, you can ask them for recommendations.
Also, feel free to get recommendations from your family doctor or primary care physician.
3. Will the doctor do the first checkup at the hospital?
As you speak with different pediatricians, ask whether they’ll complete your baby’s first checkup at the hospital.
Some pediatricians will visit your baby shortly after delivery, but only if they’re affiliated with the hospital you’re in.
If not, your baby will have the first checkup from a hospital-affiliated doctor and then have another checkup at your pediatrician’s office about 5 days after delivery.
4. Is the doctor recommended by friends and family?
You should also get pediatrician recommendations from family and close friends.
If they have a great relationship with their child’s pediatrician, you may have a similar experience.
5. What are the doctor’s credentials and experience?
All pediatricians graduate from medical school, complete a residency program, and receive state licensing. But not all pediatricians are board certified.
Board certification is a voluntary process that requires additional training in pediatrics. Upon completion, doctors take an examination to become certified by The American Board of Pediatrics.
Board certification is a valuable tool because these pediatricians have demonstrated competency in:
- patient care
- communication skills
- medical knowledge
6. How does their practice operate?
Consider how the office operates to ensure it aligns with your needs.
Some questions may include:
- Does the office allow same-day or last-minute appointments?
- Are the office hours convenient for your schedule?
- Does the pediatrician offer evening and weekend hours?
- If it’s a group practice, will your baby see different doctors or the same pediatrician each time?
7. How was your introductory visit?
The initial office visit helps you determine whether a pediatrician is right for your child. It’s vital to choose a doctor you’re comfortable with, as this encourages open communication.
Observe how the pediatrician interacts with your newborn or child. Do they show a genuine interest in your baby? If your baby has unique issues, is the doctor familiar with these issues?
Listen to your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable after the visit, this isn’t the right pediatrician for you.
For expecting families, pediatrician offices offer similar visits where you can meet the pediatrician and staff, ask questions, and tour the office.
While the above considerations can help you narrow down your options, you’ll need to ask more specific questions to further assess whether a doctor is right for your baby.
Questions to ask the pediatrician
- What hospital network do you use?
- Does your office have separate waiting areas for sick and healthy kids?
- How long is a typical checkup?
- Do you take my insurance?
- Where do you stand on topics important to me? These topics may include:
- Why did you choose pediatrics?
- Do you have any subspecialties?
- How far in advance do I need to schedule appointments?
- Do you respond to emails?
Questions to ask friends and family about their pediatricians
- Do you feel rushed during your appointments?
- Is the office clean?
- Is the waiting room kid-friendly?
- Do you have to wait a long time to see the doctor?
- Are the office staff professional?
- Does the doctor explain things clearly?
- Is the doctor empathetic?
- Does the office return calls in a timely manner?
Your pediatrician may care for your child’s health from birth up to 18 years old. During this time, your child will have numerous wellness visits to check their physical and mental development.
The nature of appointments will vary as your child becomes older, but they’ll have their first checkup within 5 days of delivery.
After the initial checkup, your doctor may schedule a 1-month appointment. Then they’ll see your baby at least every 2 months up until they’re 6 months old.
After 6 months, you’ll see your pediatrician every 3 months until your baby is 18 months old, and then every 6 months until 30 months old.
After this, your pediatrician will schedule wellness checks on an annual basis.
During these visits, your doctor will:
- complete a physical examination
- take measurements
- assess their development
- administer shots
- talk about health and safety
- answer any questions you have
Every wellness visit includes anticipatory guidance. This is advice about what’s to come developmentally for your child and how to help keep the child healthy and safe between visits.
If you’re not happy with your current pediatrician, don’t hesitate to find a new one.
Perhaps the office isn’t conveniently located, you’re having trouble getting an appointment, or you feel the doctor isn’t a good match for other reasons.
To find a new pediatrician, speak with your OB-GYN or family doctor again. They might be able to provide additional recommendations.
You can also check your network again. If it’s not too awkward, you can choose a different pediatrician in the same group practice.
You can also contact The American Board of Pediatrics to find a board certified pediatrician in your area.
Establishing a good relationship with your pediatrician also involves effort on your part, which includes communicating effectively.
Write down your concerns before each appointment so that you don’t forget to ask an important question.
Also, mention all of your concerns when setting up the appointment. If you have three concerns, but only mention one when scheduling the appointment, your doctor might be ill-prepared.
If there isn’t enough time to address your other concerns, you might have to schedule a separate appointment.
Also, make sure you understand any instructions you receive about your child’s care. Speak up if you’re unclear about something.
And don’t be afraid to provide honest feedback. If you feel that the doctor rushes your appointments, or they’re not taking your concerns seriously, have an honest conversation about this. Your pediatrician might appreciate the feedback.
When giving feedback, though, do so calmly and respectfully, to avoid putting your doctor on the defensive.
Your baby will have many doctor appointments throughout childhood and adolescence, so it’s important to choose a doctor who makes you feel comfortable.
This way, you can be confident that your child is getting the best care possible.