Looking for Dr. Right

How to find the right pediatrician for you and your baby

Tena Watts felt discouraged. After interviewing two pediatricians, she was not convinced that she wanted either one to care for her child. “I was pregnant with my first baby, and I wanted someone I could ask anything and not have him look down his nose at me,” says the 33-year-old graphic designer from Moss Beach, Calif. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with either of them.”

The third pediatrician on Watts’ list turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. “After asking him how he felt about issues like breastfeeding and having the baby sleep in our bed, I felt he would be supportive of our choices, or at least open-minded,” she says.

Finding the right pediatrician can take a lot of work, time and patience. But considering that this is the person who potentially will guide your child’s care for the next 18 years, the effort is well worth it.

Find out the basics

When looking for a pediatrician, one of the first things you need to do is compile a list of potential doctors. Friends and obstetricians or nurse-midwives are the natural people to ask for recommendations. Regardless of how good a reference might be, you and your partner still should meet with the pediatrician yourselves. But even before you do that, there are a number of simple but important questions to ask.

Many nuts-and-bolts questions about office procedures, including insurance and billing details, likely can be answered by office staff over the telephone. Try not to call first thing in the morning, when the phones typically are jammed with calls from parents of sick children. Instead, call in the afternoon, and ask when someone in the office can spend a few minutes with you. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • Is the office open in the evening, early morning or on weekends? If so, are these hours available for well-child visits, or are they reserved for illnesses and emergencies?
  • Who are the doctors on call when the office is closed?
  • Are there call-in hours when the pediatrician is available directly?
  • How are phone calls handled, and how long does it take for them to be returned?
  • How are emergencies handled? Will you have to go through a paging or answering service?
  • Which hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Will he or she meet you there in case of an emergency?

Get acquainted

If you’re satisfied with the answers to these questions, your next step is to schedule a get-acquainted visit with the pediatrician. While many doctors don’t bill for this initial interview, some charge for an office visit (typically $25–$50).

When you meet with the doctor, be prepared to discuss a number of child-rearing issues that are important to you. “Even if you think questions might be stupid, you shouldn’t feel you’re inconveniencing the doctor by asking them,” says Stephanie Bergstein, M.D., an Indianapolis pediatrician. Part of a pediatrician’s job, she adds, is to reassure parents. “What’s routine for me isn’t routine for most parents,” she says. Here are several questions you might want to consider asking the pediatrician:

  • Do you support breastfeeding? If so, until the child is what age?
  • How do you feel about circum-cision, and do you perform it ? If so, how many have you done?
  • What are your views on the use of antibiotics? How do you treat ear infections?
  • Are you open to trying alternative treatments for some illnesses?
  • How do you feel about immunizations? (Some parents choose not to immunize their children because there is a slight risk of a severe reaction.)
  • Do you support parents in raising a vegetarian child?
  • How do you feel about parents sharing the bed with their children?
  • Are you trained to care for a child with special needs?

Even if you and the pediatrician don’t agree on every issue, you still can make the partnership work. But it’s wise to know from the beginning whether your philosophies are similar. “There’s no point in choosing a pediatrician with whom you’re going to argue,” says Jay N. Gordon, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., and co-author of Brighter Baby (LifeLine Press, 1998). “You want someone who will give you information but who also has the attitude you want.”

How is the office run?

When you visit the office, pay attention to the way business is conducted. Are staff members courteous and accommodating? Do patients have to wait a long time to be seen?

Also pay attention to whether ill children are shown into exam rooms quickly to minimize the spread of germs. A few offices have separate waiting areas for sick and well children, but this is a rare setup because many parents don’t want their child to wait in the “sick” room. Finally, ask parents there in the waiting room what they like and dislike about the office.

Making the effort to find a doctor for your child may seem like a lot of work. But consider that he or she will examine your baby at birth, treat her for ear infections and acne and may even administer her precollege physical exam. When you do find Dr. Right, you’ll realize it was time well spent.