Choosing a Pediatrician
Choose a doctor for your baby while you are pregnant. The doctor or an associate will need to see your baby in the hospital shortly after birth, and you will need to take the baby into the office for a checkup within the first week or two of life. You probably will feel more comfortable at these visits if you already have met the doctor (or an associate) before your child's birth. In making your selection, the following information may be helpful.
Depending on the community where you live, you may choose to take your baby to see a pediatrician, a family physician or an internal medicine/pediatric physician. All of these doctors complete four years of medical school after college. Pediatricians are then required to train for an additional three years, learning to care for all children from birth to age 21. This gives them greater experience and expertise in treating children. Family physicians and internal medicine/pediatrics physicians train for an additional three and four years, respectively. They learn to care for both children and adults, which makes them experts in treating the whole family.
After completion of their training, all physicians must pass a comprehensive exam to become board-certified. Pediatricians are tested by the American Board of Pediatrics, family physicians by the American Board of Family Physicians, and internal medicine/pediatric physicians by both the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics. Choose the type of doctor that best meets your needs, but preferably one who is board-certified in his or her specialty.
When choosing a doctor, you also will want to consider the individual's style, interests and bedside manners. Some doctors are more easygoing or unconventional, while others are more formal or traditional. Some doctors are more recently trained and may be more up-to-date on the latest research in pediatrics; others have many years of practical experience. Some are well acquainted with alternative and complementary medicine; others less so. Some doctors even have additional training in special areas of pediatrics, for example, in behavior and development, sports medicine, or adolescent medicine. In many offices, physicians work closely with other health professionals, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants. These health professionals can answer telephone calls, perform checkups, and handle routine sick visits, which can add to the resources available for parents. Nurse practitioners have completed nursing degrees and additional training in the care of children and/or adults. Physician assistants also undergo special training to work with doctors. Look for nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are board-certified, meaning they have completed an approved training program and passed a national certification exam.
When deciding where to take your child for health care, there are also many practical considerations, including the office hours, the location of the office, the size of the practice and the types of insurance that are accepted. You may find it most convenient if the office is open for well visits at least four days a week, in the evenings or even on weekends. When your child is sick or you have questions, there should be coverage or access to some medical expert all the time.
Check referrals from friends and relatives about the doctors in your area. Ask your obstetrical-care provider to recommend a physician for your child. Most important, visit the office and meet with the doctor to see whether you feel comfortable with him or her. During your meeting, ask many questions.
When selecting your child's doctor, remember the four A's: Ability, Availability, Affability and Affordability. You may find it helpful to print out the following list of questions and take it with you to your visit. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers to these questions, but the answers should help you choose the best physician for you and your child.
Checklist: Choosing a Health Care Provider
Last updated May 29, 2011