Even before first-time parents make a birthing plan and arrange a nice long visit for grandmother when baby comes, there is a critical detail that demands attention, though it is often left to the last minute.
No, not making sure the breast pump works, or buying new shoes for the surprise moment when the old ones don’t fit anymore. It’s finding a pediatrician with all the right stuff.
Your pediatrician is a medical doctor who sees children from birth until age 21. According to WebMD.com, pediatricians have graduated from medical school and completed a three-year residency program in pediatrics. A board-certified pediatrician has passed rigorous exams given by the American Board of Pediatrics.
Your pediatrician will see your child many times from birth to age 2 and annually from age 2 to age 5 for “well-child visits,” according to the website. After age 5, your pediatrician will likely continue to see your child every year for annual checkups. Your pediatrician is also the first person to call whenever your child is sick.
Asking friends and family members for names is the most common starting place for many parents. If your sister-in-law adores her pediatrician, or your best friend can’t imagine taking her kids anywhere but their own doctor, you’ll feel pretty good about following their lead. Asking your obstetrician for names is another recommended path.
Talking to your health insurance company should also be on your list. If you are new to the area, and don’t know a soul, the insurance company can tell you who is in its network, which is also good to know if you have a list of names already. If you’re relying on the insurance company to give you some names, you can search the doctor online and see what comes up. Healthgrades.com is a user-review based site that you need to put your trust in – like Yelp.com – if it’s going to be of any use.
If you have a name, finding out where the physician went to school, where the residency was done and their approximate age is fairly easy to do online. Healthgrades.com can help with this, and many practices list this information on their websites. If you want a female doctor for your daughter, seeing that Dr. G.W. Smith is a female might help you. If you want a seasoned, grandfatherly doctor who has been around a while, the photo will help you with that.
Besides these personal stats, there are other questions you should be considering, as well.
Amy Aieta, a registered nurse, unit coordinator at Mid Coast Hospital Maternity Care Center and mother of two, advises thinking carefully about the questions you will ask your friends when seeking recommendations. Their own experiences will tell you about the physician.
“What happened when the parent made an emergency call in the middle of the night? How does the physician feel about issues like co-sleeping, vaccinations, or other issues that are important?” she said.
The long relationship a parent and child will have with their pediatrician means it’s critical to learn as much as you can, Aieta said.
“Your child may be seeing this doctor for 18 years or more. It’s a very long relationship and mutual trust between the child/parents and the doctor is important,” she said.
Aieta says that if it’s not a good fit, you can always change providers, though you want to give it time. But if you often don’t see eye to eye on issues such as vaccinations, it may be best to move on to another doctor.
Aieta also suggests visiting at least two practices during a search for “meet and greets” (now standard in many offices), where you can get a feel for the staff and how they run the office. Is there too much waiting going on in the waiting room? Is the staff friendly? Is there a kids’ play or “sick” area? These things matter.
Jamie Dorr of Bath found her two sons’ pediatrician through friends, and after a meet-and-greet appointment, “the rest was history.” She says that accessibility is key.
“We found a tick on Noah when he was 2. It was Easter Sunday and it had burrowed deeply into the crown of his head. It was very hard to get out, but [our pediatrician] was there and took good care of him. I’ll never forget it.”
Wendy Rawson, office manager at Midcoast Pediatrics in Brunswick, likens the search for a pediatrician to shoe shopping.
“Just like a pair of shoes, you have to try them on to get a good fit,” she said. “Parents should remember, too, that it takes a doctor a while to really get to know a child, and that’s very important.”
Rawson says that in the initial searching, the focus can be on details as simple as location and proximity, hours or flexibility.
“We like to make sure that parents understand the experience here, and what we do. One of our main jobs is to keep children out of the ER, and that means being available. We are open every day. That’s very important. Those ER trips are not good for anyone.”
For some parents, achieving that great match comes about with a convergence of practical and personal considerations.
“We chose our pediatrician based on recommendations from family and friends. We asked around and got a lot of input,” Lauren Breault Sinclair, Bath mom to 3-year-old Beckett, said. “The doctor we chose was highly recommended by several different people, and she works in an office that is close to our home with really great early-morning, evening and weekend hours.
“I like our pediatrician because she is very professional and organized, while at the same time warm and caring toward our child and family. She also values breast-feeding and vaccines, which are two things that are very important to me,” Sinclair said.
Another midcoast mom, Dena Bachman, had an experience that reminded her that seeing things from other angles can be enlightening. Her first impression of a recommended doctor was not favorable, and Bachman doubted the choice, mostly due to a brusque personality.
Her lesson learned? “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
When one of her kids was suddenly taken very ill, “he was the one on call, and he was my super hero. My daughter was his only priority and he connected with her and she instantly trusted him. We knew he was staying past his shift to make sure she was OK and I will be forever grateful.” Bachman says that her a-ha moment, realizing the doctor is “for my kids, not for me,” was an eye-opener.
As a parent, Aieta says another key is seeing how a physician relates to your children as they grow.
“A good doctor should talk to a child with a directness and openness, almost as if they are an adult,” she said. “To not talk over them, but to talk to them in a way that is adequate for their age, where they can ask questions and converse, is really important. It also helps build trust.”
Parents have a responsibility to be informed, Aieta says.
“If parents are going to ask their doctors about something controversial, or not particularly traditional, it’s up to them to be somewhat educated on the topic so that they can have an informed discussion. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing that the Internet is out there,” she says.
When you find the right pediatrician, you’ll know. And you’ll really know when moving to another town doesn’t change your mind.
Paul Friedland and Page Herrlinger of Portland found their childrens’ pediatrician – “exactly the kind of person that Central Casting would have selected to play the role of rural Maine doctor,” Friedland said – in the midcoast area where they landed after relocating from Chicago.
“He turned out to be incredibly knowledgeable, and we stayed with him through all of our four kids. When we moved to Portland, we tried out new pediatricians, but it wasn’t the same,” he said. “We ended up staying with his practice, driving 45 minutes back up north as needed, which just seemed well worth it.”
With one young child still at home, they’re hanging on to this doctor they love.
Because he’s the perfect pediatrician – for them.