During your baby’s first year of life, you will visit the doctor’s office at least six times.
In many ways, your baby’s pediatrician will become an integral part of your new parenting life. You’ll discuss your baby’s medical concerns (and there will be concerns), you’ll trust them with your baby’s health, and they’ll have a direct influence on your most important choices.
As new parents, my husband and I struggled to find the right provider for our daughter. We actually switched providers when she was 3 months old just to begin the search again when we moved across the country. Finally, I think we’ve finally hammered out this meticulous process.
If you’re struggling to find the right pediatrician for your newborn or unborn baby, I get it. Choosing a pediatrician is hard. It’s one of the first difficult decisions you’ll make as a new parent and there’s so much riding on it.
And that, my friend, is where this ultimate guide comes in. I compiled this guide so you can easily learn how to choose a pediatrician for your baby.
We’ll unpack the entire process of finding a great pediatrician, including how to search for one, when to search for one, what qualities to look for, and the extremely important questions to ask a pediatrician at a meet and greet.
By the end of this post, I hope you’ll feel much more comfortable and confident about this process. We both know how important your choice is, so let’s get right to it.
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The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Perfect Pediatrician
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What Are Pediatricians?
If you’re anything like I was before coming a mom, all of the medical jargon might sound a little confusing. Let’s break it down.
Simply put, pediatricians are doctors that specialize in children’s health. They only treat babies, adolescents, and teenagers.
Because of this specialization, they are considered the experts in the field.
From here, pediatricians can focus on sub-specialties. Most likely, you are looking for a primary care pediatrician. However, if you have a newborn with special needs, you might search for a pediatrician that sub-specializes in your baby’s ailments or conditions (we’ll get into that in a minute).
Ideally, your pediatrician will be ABP (American Board of Pediatrics) board certified. In order to gain this certification, they will need to pass the ABP’s extensive exam and continue passing every 7 years.
Why is this so important?
Technically, obtaining an ABP board certification goes above and beyond normal licensing requirements. It shows that your pediatrician is passionate about his work and committed to learning about the most current medical recommendations and treatment.
Pediatricians vs. Family Physicians
Before we dive into how to choose a pediatrician, let’s talk about the practitioners you can select. The biggest question is, should you use a pediatrician or family physician?
Honestly, family doctors and pediatricians are both excellent choices for primary care.
So, what’s the difference? Why would you seek out the aid of a pediatrician if you have a family physician that you’ve been seeing since you were in diapers?
Family doctors see a host of patients at varying ages. They are well-rounded professionals that deal with acute illnesses as well as chronic conditions. However, this need for diversity and flexibility may not allow them to specialize in infant care.
They may or may not be up with the times on current pediatric trends. They may not even enjoy working with small children.
Having said that, you absolutely can find a family physician that loves working with small children and is completely up-to-date. Many of these physicians take their own board-certification exam from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Once again, this is a voluntary certification that clues you in to your doctor’s level of commitment and passion for the field.
If you do select a family practitioner, you’ll enjoy the convenience of scheduling appointments together, simplified billing and paperwork, and having a doctor that is intimately acquainted with your entire family.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
Let me throw one more medical professional at you: pediatric nurse practitioners.
This professional is a registered nurse that specializes in pediatric care. At minimum, a pediatric nurse practitioner must obtain a master’s degree in nursing and must be board certified for pediatric care. Nurse practitioners are trained to perform most of the primary functions as pediatricians, such as wellness visits, diagnosing some illnesses, administering vaccines, and other medical consultations. Some may even sub-specialize in breastfeeding consultation.
There are many benefits to choosing a nurse practitioner; typically, they are allowed to spend more time with their clients, can be less expensive, and provide wholesome, individualized care. A nurse practitioner’s availability can also be more open.
During my own quest to learn how to choose a pediatrician, a pediatric nurse practitioner wasn’t even on my radar.
Then, my daughter was diagnosed with a tongue tie and our search for someone to perform the frenectomy led us to our nurse practitioner. We loved her and switched from our current pediatrician immediately. We never regretted our choice!
Having said that, if your baby does have special needs or is a high-risk infant, you will need the care of a pediatrician or family physician. A nurse practitioner can consult or refer to a specialized doctor, but may not be qualified to help patients with severe or complex medical disorders.
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When to Find a Pediatrician
Should You Find a Pediatrician While You’re Pregnant or After the Baby is Born?
Finding a pediatrician for a newborn is a lot more difficult than finding a pediatrician for an unborn baby.
Once you give birth, you’re going to be bone-tired. During the first couple weeks, your sole focus should be recovery and caring for your new baby.
The trouble is, your newborn needs to visit a pediatrician 3-5 days after leaving the hospital. The last thing you want to do is begin the arduous search for your first pediatrician immediately after giving birth.
Begin your search around 28-30 weeks. That should give you a few weeks to conduct any research or interviews. That will also give you ample time to update your birth plan with your new pediatrician’s information.
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How to Find a Pediatrician: Step-by-Step
If you’re still pregnant, your first go-to should be your OB-GYN. If you like your OB-GYN’s bedside manner and personality, chances are she’ll be able to direct you to someone similar. Best of all, her referral may be in the same provider network, which can eliminate insurance or paperwork complications.
Your friends can also point you in the direction towards excellent providers, just be aware that their doctors may not be accepting new patients.
Personally, I love using my insurance provider’s “Find a Doctor” tool. Most insurance providers offer this tool on their website.
My insurance provider’s tool allows me to specifically search for pediatricians that are “in-network” within a 10 mile radius of my house. My insurance provider even shows a cost and quality rating associated with the practice.
If your insurance doesn’t provide this tool or their customer service won’t refer you to a provider, the AAP offers a similar (albeit less expansive) tool.
Screen Your Candidates
Once you find a pediatrician, cross reference with Google to research their client satisfaction, practice hours, and education history.
Many healthcare networks publish bios or interview videos of their doctors on their website. Check it out to get a feel for your doctor’s personality.
Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com are also great resources for checking out reviews from current and former patients. Many times, the pediatrician’s education background and credentials will be listed on these websites as well.
Finally, take a peek at your state medical board disciplinary action website to ensure that there aren’t any current or previous cases against your candidates.
Choose Three Candidates
Most likely, you will not to meet with all three. The first interview might be a slam dunk. Still, you’ll want to have a couple secondary choices in case things don’t click with your first.
Set Up a Meet and Greet
Call your top three candidates’ offices to set up a meet and greet. Similar to a job interview, a meet and greet will allow you to analyze the pediatrician and his office to determine if he’s truly a good fit for your family.
Some of you might be tempted to skip this step, but I think it’s one of the most important things to know about how to choose a pediatrician. If you’re pregnant, I highly recommend scheduling a meet and greet. It will solve so many problems in the long run.
If you’re already the parent of a newborn, and time is of the essence, I do understand why you might want to skip this step. Still, at least speak with an office staff member to ask some of the interview questions below.
Keep in mind, you may need to pay upfront for a meet and greet.
What to Consider When Choosing a Pediatrician
On those days when your baby can’t stand his car seat, when your toddler is wailing from a nasty fever, or you’re just dealing with dangerous weather, you will be so thankful that your pediatrician is located close to home.
If you can, try to find a facility within 20 minutes of home. That way, if there’s traffic or bad weather, you won’t be committed to a terrible drive.
Also keep in mind other influences, such as additional county taxes, parking, and seedy parts of town.
You may have found the perfect pediatrician, but if she’s not available when your baby needs her, what’s the point?
Before even setting up your meet and greet, I recommend asking the scheduler or office staff what their typical lead time is for appointments. Keep in mind that most wellness visits can and do book a couple weeks out. However, make sure that the office offers same-day or even next day appointments for sick babies.
Also consider your pediatrician’s office hours. Many pediatricians are now available until 6 or 7pm a few days a week and are even open on Saturdays.
You’ll likely visit the doctor’s office once a month for the first few months, so try to find an office with convenient hours.
Calls, Nurse Lines, and After-Hours Support
If it’s one thing you can trust, its that your baby will not adhere to a pediatrician’s office hours.
A consultation line allows you to determine if an emergency room visit is necessary and save you from making unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office. Not to mention, after-hours support offers peace of mind.
Also consider calls for general questions. Sometimes you can leave a doctor a message without hearing back for days. During your interview, ask about the lead time for general communication, like messages or emails.
Before deciding on your pediatrician, check out the hospital or healthcare association he’s affiliated with. This will tell you what hospital or other practitioners you will be recommended to. It can also give you an idea of the general beliefs and philosophies you can expect from your pediatrician’s office.
You may gain other advantages as well, such as health record and history availability and simplified billing.
Credentials and Specializations
We already talked quite a bit about AAP or AAFP certification. Keep in mind your pediatrician’s sub-specializations as well. A few subcategories you might consider are:
- Neonatal-Perinatal Pediatrics
- Child abuse
- Critical care
A pediatrician’s educational background isn’t incredibly important (as long as they are truly a pediatrician!), but it can give you an idea of their experience, possible philosophies, and even years of practice.
Take a look at the services provided by your pediatrician’s office. Anything in-house will reduce inconvenient visits and minimize additional bills.
The main services you’ll want to look for are:
- Blood tests
- Breastfeeding consultations
- Physical and mental developmental monitoring
- Wellness visits
- Diagnosis of illnesses and diseases
- Sports physicals
- Allergy care
- Urgent care or walk-in hours
Before you even schedule your meet and greet, ask the office staff if your insurance is accepted, what your upfront cost is, and get a general idea of their billing policies. Using your insurance provider’s “Find a Doctor” tool is a great way to take the guesswork out of the equation.
I’ve noticed that many people recommend asking the pediatrician about insurance and payments.
I do not think this is a question worthy of your meet and greet. Your pediatrician might have an idea about how the billing goes, but it’s a question better left to the staff that specializes in it.
At the end of the day, if you and your potential pediatrician aren’t vibing well, it should be a no-go. Even if the practitioner isn’t outgoing or overly friendly, he should at least be professional and open to answering your questions.
Think about it; a pediatrician-parent relationship is long-term. In the first three years alone, you’re going to have at least nine checkups plus a myriad of phone calls and seemingly stupid requests. You should feel comfortable and confident voicing your concerns to this person.
Office Staff and Facility
A pediatrician is only as good as his staff and facility. If you’ve found the best pediatrician in the world, but you have to go through an army of rude employees to get to her, you’re going to walk away sooner rather than later.
The office staff should be helpful, friendly, and engaging.
When you call to schedule your meet and greet, ask a few preliminary questions about the practice. This will be your first tell of the staff’s mentality. As long as you’re respectful with their time, the staff should have no problem answering your questions.
However, if they treat the conversation with impatience, this could be a red flag (though not a deal-breaker yet). Every office has a Debbie Downer.
During your visit, watch how the staff interacts with the rest of the patients. Are they rude and robotic or empathetic and friendly? A grumpy crowd in the reception room can be a dead giveaway that something isn’t right with the practice.
I despise taking my daughter to urgent care clinics. I feel like we walk out sicker than when we came in.
With that said, a clean facility can ensure your baby’s continued health. Sanitation stations, separate waiting areas for the sick, and general cleanliness are all tells of the care that the practice puts into their patients.
When you choose a pediatrician, you also gain the advantage of a kid-friendly environment. So, check out the general vibe of the practice. Is it decorated with kid-friendly pictures and colors? Are there toys and other forms of entertainment available? Or is it drab and barely maintained?
A happy, engaging facility can minimize your baby or toddler’s anxiety.
If there is one thing that could (and sometimes should) axe a pediatrician-parent relationship, it’s a difference in philosophies.
During your interview, you do not want to skirt around the issues that you strongly believe in. Ask about the pediatrician’s views on vaccinations, sleep training, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, developmental milestones, etc.
However, keep in mind that a difference in opinion may not make or break your decision.
You’re really looking for how they respect and respond to your opinion. I once had a pediatrician that was perfect in all ways, but she despised sleep training. She respectfully told me her opinion and, because this difference wouldn’t affect how we worked together, it never became an issue.
How your pediatrician explains her philosophies is just as important as what she believes.
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I might be the minority here, but the technological aspect of a pediatric practice is extremely important to me. I don’t have time to send checks or wait for two weeks for test results to arrive by snail mail.
Accessing records, results, and bills online is not only incredibly convenient, but it’s essential to keeping everything organized.
Do you think this will be a priority for your family? Check out your pediatrician’s website. His online system may not be essential when you consider how to choose a pediatrician, but it should at least be a consideration.
Interviewing Pediatricians: Questions to Ask
I think the interview process is one of the most important aspect’s of learning how to choose a pediatrician. The questions you ask a pediatrician should be direct, insightful, and not waste anyone’s time. This shows the pediatrician that you respect his time and have already done your due diligence.
This approach will require you to do a little bit of research before the meet and greet.
Before you schedule the meet and greet, call the pediatrician’s office, even if you have the option to make an appointment online. Explain that you are choosing a pediatrician and would like to ask a few questions about his office before setting up the consultation.
Questions to Ask the Office Staff Before the Interview
- Are you accepting new patients?
- Do you accept X insurance?
- If so, what’s your upfront cost? If not, do you have a payment plan?
- What is your lead time on general appointments?
- Do you offer same-day or walk-in care?
Once you’ve googled and questioned the staff to gain basic information, you can focus on the questions you would ask during the meet and greet.
These questions are focused on uncovering the passion behind your pediatrician, making sure his philosophies are in line with yours, and ensuring that his services will be enough for your family.
Questions to Ask a Pediatrician
- Tell me about your practice.
- Why did you choose pediatrics?
- If you’re unavailable, who can I see or talk to about my baby’s illness?
- Does your practice provide after-hours consulting? (If not, how long does it take to get a call-back?)
- Do you offer walk-ins or same-day sick appointments?
- What’s your philosophy on (insert hot topic: vaccines, antibiotics, circumcision, baby weaning, breastfeeding, sleep training…)
- Are your imaging or testing centers in our network as well? (If the doctor doesn’t know, it might be a good idea to ask where you would be sent to.)
- Do you have children?
- Do you have any experience with (insert your baby’s special circumstances)
- If pregnant, ask about seeing your newborn at the hospital. If your doctor isn’t able to provide this service, it may not be a deal-breaker. Many hospitals have pediatricians that can perform this checkup.
Learning How to Choose a Pediatrician Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
I promise, it doesn’t!
Once you find that spectacular pediatrician, you’ll feel like a load has been lifted from your shoulders. You’ll be confident that your baby is in good hands and that you’re receiving the best advice possible.
Learning how to choose a pediatrician requires a little bit of homework, but the results are so worth it.
Now that you’ve gone through the guide, I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences about choosing a pediatrician. This is such an important topic and I know our other readers would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below.
Finally, If you’re searching for more new mom tips, I hope you’ll take a look around the blog and join us on Instagram and Pinterest as well. On Instagram especially, I post super quick, helpful new mom tips that you don’t want to miss.
Good luck with your search!
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