Lesson 9: Choose a pediatrician

One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a new parent is who your child’s pediatrician will be. Hopefully you’ll be able to choose somebody with whom you are comfortable and who shares a similar parenting philosophy with you.

We received a referral for J’s pediatrician from a family member. We were fairly confident that we would use him, but we did want to meet him first. I’ll admit to feeling just a little silly, calling to schedule an appointment for an interview with him (especially when the receptionist acted like I was speaking in a foreign language—apparently it’s not very common around here for parents to request to interview a pediatrician before deciding on one); but it was very important to us that we felt confident and comfortable with (we’ll just call him) Dr. R before entrusting our child’s most valuable possession to him: his health.

To start, I called Dr. R’s receptionist and asked to schedule a new-patient interview. She was very puzzled by this request and I had to explain to her several times that I was pregnant, hoping to use Dr. R as my child’s pediatrician, and would like to schedule a meeting with him. She kept explaining to me what I needed to do once J was born to establish him as a patient. With persistence, I finally managed to make her understand that, before I was going to entrust a doctor with my child’s health, I at least wanted to shake his hand, ya know?

To his credit, Dr. R didn’t seem at all surprised or put out by us wanting to meet him, and so we scheduled an appointment for one day during his lunch break.

So, once the first obstacle was overcome, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I needed to ask him. I knew I wanted to be comfortable with him…but what would make me comfortable?

Here’s what I found while researching “what the hell do I ask my future baby doctor?”

First, if you don’t have a pediatrician in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics  and Healhychildren.org provide a great Find a Pediatrician tool.

I’m going to skip the discussion on insurance, degree, years of experience and cleanliness of the office. Because? Duh.

Location. Your pediatrician’s office location is important. He may be the best doctor in the world, but if it takes 45 minutes to travel there when your child is sick, you might want to rethink it.

Office Hours. Is your pediatrician available during the times and on the days that are consistent with your schedule? This is something we weren’t very picky about because most doctors in our area have the same hours—8am-5pm, Monday-Friday. But we did make sure to find out what happened if our child was sick outside of normal business hours. Which leads me to…

After-hours. Is your pediatrician affiliated with a local hospital or after-hours clinic where your child can be seen if an illness doesn’t have the courtesy to check a calendar or clock? Is an on-call pediatrician available after-hours?

Scheduling. How long does it take to schedule an appointment? It’s one thing to have to wait several weeks for a well-visit, but if your child is sick you’ll want him seen within 24 hours. Can you make an appointment on short notice? If your pediatrician is unavailable, is there another doctor in the practice who will be able to see your child?

Time. How much time does your pediatrician spend with you and your child? It’s important that you never feel rushed, especially as a new parent. If you have 20 questions you need answered, you need those questions answered without the doctor sneaking a look at his watch every few seconds. His time is valuable—but so is yours. This is the one thing we love the most about Dr. R. He’s there for as long as we need him, whether that’s 5 minutes or an hour. He answers all of our questions patiently, in as much detail as necessary, and never acts rushed. He’s like this with every patient so that sometimes means appointment times are late, but it’s a trade-off we’re more than willing to accept.

Waiting room(s). I love the idea of having a well-visit waiting room separate from a sick waiting room. We compromised on that one, since Dr. R’s office isn’t set up that way. But it’s the one thing I would change if I could.

Vaccinations. I’m not going to get into the right or wrong on vaccinating your child. I won’t discuss it in this post, and I won’t blog about it later. I’m not avoiding it because it isn’t important and I’m not avoiding it because I worry about offending anybody or avoiding confrontation (this is my blog and my opinions—I get to write what I want, and you get to read what you want). I’m avoiding it because there is no point in arguing about it. There’s plenty of scientific research out there that proves there is much more risk to not vaccinating your child than to vaccinating, and that’s what we choose to go by. So, do what you will.

As for me and my family, we choose vaccination. And because of that, I don’t particularly want my child mingling with any unvaccinated children while they’re sick at the doctor’s office. Many doctors require that their patients are vaccinated, or they won’t have them as patients. Decide what works for your family (to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?), then decide if this is an important factor to you in a doctor’s office.

Behavioral developments. There’s a lot more to practicing medicine than just writing a prescription. It was important to us that J’s pediatrician was one who took a multi-faceted approach and understood that mental and behavioral conditions have an effect on physical well-being. If we had behavioral questions or parenting concerns, we wanted to be able to ask him about them and have those questions taken seriously. We scored on that one because, not only does our doctor take this approach, his philosophies are very much in line with ours.

Personal opinions. Ask him his opinions on vaccinating, circumcision, breastfeeding, parenting methods, sleep training, etc. This isn’t important because he has to agree with you 100% (for one, your personal opinions will probably change once Baby arrives). It’s important because he needs to be open to discussing these things with you and you need to be comfortable asking him.

The comfort thing was a big deal to me. The only doctors I had ever selected for myself had been women, so I needed to know that I could look a male pediatrician in the eye and say the word “nipple” while discussing breastfeeding without turning three shades of red (I actually just blushed while typing–me, a person who has no problem breastfeeding in public).

As it turns out, this is what did it for me. I was comfortable asking Dr. R his opinions on these things and I liked his answers. It isn’t that he’s noncommittal to a view, but more that he’s nonjudgmental. He recognizes that lots of different approaches work for lots of different families and kids—and they’re (almost) all valid.

After J was born and we got to know each other well, after he learned what was important to us as parents and as a family, he gave us the support we needed. For example, when J was about 4 months old, I was ready to wash my hands of breastfeeding. I was exhausted of it, frustrated and just generally over it. Because he had been so nonjudgmental and supportive of our decisions, he surprised me when he very sternly told me that it was important for me to continue breastfeeding and that we would discuss it again at J’s 6-month appointment. Had I been a parent who chose formula-feeding from the beginning, Dr. R. wouldn’t have batted an eye, or judged, or told me “breast is best!” But because I chose breastfeeding for my son, because I struggled with it and fought for it, I think because he knew it was important to me, he didn’t let me get away with giving up just because I was feeling frustrated. He gave me the kick in the pants I needed, and I’m glad. It gives me confidence that he’ll do it again in the future if he needs to.

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2 comments on “Lesson 9: Choose a pediatrician

  1. Great advice at a good time of year when people are needing to catch up on vaccinations! Thanks for following my blog! I’ve moved to wordpress.org and can’t take you as a subscriber with me! Please click on over to http://www.RocksNoSaltMommy.com and subscribe via email!! I’d really appreciate it!

  2. […] If you haven’t found a pediatrician for your newborn, check out my post on choosing a pediatrician. […]

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