Your baby’s pediatrician will be their doctor from birth until they become an adult, which is why it is important to find a pediatrician that you like and with whom you (and your child) are comfortable. So, no pressure, parents. If you feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to the daunting task of choosing a pediatrician, don’t fret. I felt the same way when I began interviewing pediatricians, and I had no idea what kinds of questions I was supposed to ask. Luckily, I found Rebecca Cooper, MD, JD, FAAP (yes, you read that right, she’s a lawyer and a doctor), who became my son’s pediatrician. So, during a recent visit with Cooper, I asked her to shed some light on what questions a parent should ask a pediatrician to find one that both you and your child will love.
When should you look for a pediatrician?
Pediatricians typically see babies for the first time between one and two days after hospital discharge, so it is important to have a pediatrician lined up well before you go into labor. The best time to choose a pediatrician is early in your third trimester. At that point, labor is still a few weeks away, so you (should) have plenty of time to interview prospective pediatricians and choose the right one for you. Often, pediatricians will have special appointments for expecting parents to come in, see the office, and ask questions. Here’s what to look for in a pediatrician you and your kids will love:
Make sure the pediatrician takes your insurance.
Before you choose a pediatrician, make sure they take your insurance so you know how much visits will cost ahead of time, how vaccines are covered, and the cost of any emergency medical situations that may come up (like when your kid sticks a bean up his nose). If your child needs routine or specialized care, check to see how much of those visits will be covered, too.
Questions to Ask a Pediatrician: What are your credentials?
Before you embark on your pediatrician interviews, look pediatricians up online and read their bios. Here are some things to look for:
- Where did they go to medical school? Where did they complete their pediatric residency?
- How long have they been practicing in the field of pediatrics?
- Is the pediatrician certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP)? “It’s important that your pediatrician be board certified,” says Cooper. That’s because this certification means that the pediatrician has passed a special exam in pediatrics that goes beyond state licensing requirements.
- Is the pediatrician a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP)? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not certify pediatricians. Rather, it is a peer community that provides professional resources to pediatricians and publishes pediatric research. If your pediatrician is an AAP member, they’ll have the initials FAAP behind their name.
- Do they provide specialized care? If your child has special needs, make sure to choose a pediatrician who is trained in the type of care your child requires.
If any of this information isn’t available on your pediatrician’s website, ask to see their credentials in person during your interview.
Questions to Ask a Pediatrician: Are our healthcare values in sync?
Aside from the hard facts of their credentials, it’s important to find out if you are going to get along! Are you a crunchy mama who’s willing to share your bedroom with your babe for several years? Are you planning on formula feeding? Are you not quite sure how to feel about antibiotics? To see if you and a prospective pediatrician are in sync, ask yourself these questions before posing them to the pediatrician.
- How do you feel about breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is an intensely personal experience between mother and baby, and while we all hope it goes smoothly, sometimes breastfeeding can be a challenge. Ideally, your pediatrician will provide support through the breastfeeding process and offer help when necessary, including helpful information when it’s time to stop breastfeeding. If your views on breastfeeding don’t line up with your pediatrician’s, then it may not be a compatible relationship.
- What are your thoughts on baby’s sleeping habits? Are you comfortable with the idea of sleep training your baby or does the thought of letting your little one cry it out make you cringe? As long as you’re choosing a healthy method to teach your baby to sleep, your doctor should be supportive and provide helpful advice when warranted.
- When is it appropriate to medicate a little one? This one’s a biggie, mom. If baby has a cold, do you want a pediatrician who calls in a prescription or tries more holistic remedies first? Make sure that your thoughts on medication line up when choosing a pediatrician.
Questions to Ask a Pediatrician: What’s the office like?
All doctors’ offices are the same, right? Front desk, waiting room, exam rooms. Well, you might not think so at first, but a pediatrician’s office is one of the most important factors when choosing a pediatrician, and they’re not all created equal. Ask the pediatrician these questions about their office during your interview:
- What are your office hours? If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it might be fairly easy for you to get your kid to the pediatrician during regular business hours. But if you’re working 9 to 5, make sure your pediatrician offers early, late, and weekend hours so you can make an appointment that fits your schedule.
- Do you have someone on call after hours? At some point, you’re going to have a sick baby in the middle of the night. It’s reassuring to know that you can call the pediatrician or nurse on call and get help for your little one no matter what time it is.
- What about same-day appointments? Emergency room visits are expensive, so if you have a situation that isn’t life-threatening but is urgent, like a sprained ankle, it’s nice to know that your child can be seen the same day.
- Is this a group practice? “Of course there are pros and cons to a group practice,” Cooper explains. “In a group practice you’ll probably have extended office hours and on-call physicians because there are more doctors, but you may not always see your preferred pediatrician or really get to know your doctor well.” You’ll probably know if the office you’re visiting is a group practice before you go, so make sure you try to visit with as many of the group’s pediatricians as possible to get a sense of how the office operates.
Questions to Ask Yourself After a Pediatrician Interview
“I always tell first-time parents that interviewing a pediatrician isn’t really about asking the right questions, but rather how you feel after the interview,” says Cooper. After a pediatrician interview, sit down and think about your experience. Here are some questions to ask yourself after the interview:
- Did you feel comfortable with the pediatrician? This is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a pediatrician, says Cooper. If you don’t feel comfortable honestly discussing your child’s health and home life with your pediatrician, then your child won’t be getting the best quality of care because the pediatrician won’t have the full story.
- Did you notice how the pediatrician and office staff interacted with children? Sometimes a pediatrician can be a wonderful doctor, but not have such a great rapport with kids. If your little one is still incubating, notice how the office staff and pediatrician greet and interact with other kids to get a feel for how they’ll treat your little nugget in the future.
- How was the waiting room? Was the waiting room clean? Did it have toys and books to entertain little ones? These aren’t necessary, of course, but it is nice when a pediatrician’s office makes an effort to be a place that kids actually like to visit.
Making the Final Decision
These questions to ask a pediatrician are just a guideline to help you stay on track during a pediatrician interview, but don’t get hung up on making sure a doc meets every single thing on your wishlist. Did you find a pediatrician that’s great with kids, feels the same way about breastfeeding as you do, is close to your home, but doesn’t have toys and games in their waiting room? That’s totally okay, Cooper assures us. “Listen,” Cooper says as she gives me the best advice so far, “the most important thing I can tell you about choosing a pediatrician is that it’s not like you’re choosing a spouse. Don’t get hung up on finding ‘the one.’ Just make sure you like your pediatrician and that they’ll give excellent care to your child, and you’ll make a great choice.”