I had checklists for my checklists when I was expecting my first child. Already a pro at navigating message boards during my wedding planning, I pored through threads of advice for choosing the best pediatrician to curate my own. It was embarrassingly lengthy yet practical, and helped me narrow down the contenders before baby number one made his appearance. I chose a set of two partners with a practice one town over from me. They were the perfect fit.
My second child came soon after, while we were in the midst of selling our apartment to move to a house in suburbia. I was overwhelmed by the mountain of logistics I needed to navigate with a baby strapped to my chest and a toddler on my hip. The second search for a pediatrician went more like, let’s get this over with. I figured a bunch of recommendations was good enough for me, and signed up with one that covered the basics: They were close to my new home, parents liked it, and they took my insurance.
Then my son got sick. Over and over again, fevers, coughs, and infections that required emergency hour visits, antibiotics, and follow-ups. It was like I lived at the new pediatrician’s office for months, yet he wasn’t getting better. Though those who spoke highly of the practice said they loved the many doctors and nurses there, my kid saw a different one every time we went. My gut told me the team there was missing something. I picked up and ran to a new practice. The doctor there immediately saw the real problem. Her team worked together to manage all of the issues in such a wonderful and efficient way, my boy was a new person within a month of switching pediatricians.
It has been a decade since I made my last switch, and can say that hindsight helps me better understand what I did right and wrong in my first two hunts for a pediatrician. I’ve been at a small two-doctor practice, a standalone practice with a large roster of doctors and nurses, and one that’s part of a large medical group campus, at which you choose a main pediatrician from a roster of about ten. There are pros and cons to each, and the questions below should help you both narrow down which might work best for you, as well as decide which doctor at each kind of practice could be the best fit.
Remember, you don’t need to ask every question on every list. Choose what is important to you and your family, and let that guide you.
1. Your Wants and Needs
Ask yourself how important each of these things is to you, and then see if the pediatrician is a match.
- What are you most looking for in a pediatrician?
- Do you want a brand-new doctor? One with decades of experience? One who has a certain specialty that would make them able to understand your child’s specific needs better? What do you want to see in their experience to make you comfortable?
- Do you want a mostly holistic approach, or a doctor who is willing to try natural remedies/solutions when they are a reasonable option?
- Do you have religious, cultural, philosophical, or other needs that would influence what you require from a pediatrician, and is that practice able to work within those parameters?
- Did you feel comfortable with and respected by the office staff and pediatrician when you called and visited?
2. The Logistics
Make sure the practice you choose makes sense for your basic needs.
- Do they take your insurance?
- Where are they located? Do they have more than one location? Do you have the ability to get to them via car, train, bus, or by foot? How about if you have all of your kids with you?
- What are their office hours?
- What is the procedure for when you need to speak to them outside of office hours?
- Can you make appointments online, or only over the phone?
- Is there a nurse line to ask questions, or is coming in the only option?
- What is/where is their associated Urgent Care center or Emergency Room?
- Is it a small practice with just a few doctors, a larger one, or something in between? How many doctors and nurses are on staff at that location?
- How do the doctors keep their records, and is it instantly accessible to all doctors/nurses in the practice?
- How does the practice communicate information about your child with other branches of the medical group (or outside services), from references for testing to seeing the big picture of their overall health, no matter what doctors they’ve seen?
- Which regular tests and procedures can be done in-office, and which cannot? Where would you have to take your child to get those done?
- Do they have an affiliated or attached pharmacy for prescriptions, or can they send it to one you choose?
3. Ask the References
Get parents in the community talking about the specifics of what won them over (or made them switch). Even if your needs and wants don’t match theirs, the feedback will give you insight.
- Why do you like your pediatrician(s)?
- What do you not like about them?
- Have you ever switched doctors or practices? If so, why?
- Have you have special issues come up, and how well did the doctor address them?
- Are your concerns taken seriously?
4. Ask Your Kids
This is their doctor, after all. Make sure they feel comfortable, both upon meeting them and as they continue seeing them over time. If their comfort level ever drops: Listen.
- Do you like the doctor?
- Is there anything you don’t like about the doctor?
- Would you like a different doctor?
- Who is your favorite doctor/nurse, and why is that?
- If you could change something about your doctor or doctor’s office, what would it be?
- If they’re too young to talk, look at how they respond to the staff that handles them. Do they warm up? Do they flinch away? What can you read in their response?
5. Listen to Your Gut
Your instincts can be your most important tool.
Sometimes that means following along when your gut tells you it’s time to go elsewhere, other times it means listening when it tells you to stop drilling the doctor you’re interviewing because she’s clearly the one.
I know it feels like such an important part of your job, but I promise that even if you end up not liking your first choice, it’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of wonderful pediatricians out there just waiting for you to find them.