Choosing a Pediatrician: All you need to know

Pediatrician examining ear of little boy

Who will become your child’s pediatrician is a critical decision in family health care. Pediatricians handle routine checkups, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses, injuries, and conditions. You’ll want one who becomes a trusted resource for guidance and care when you need it most.

This guide can help parents make an informed choice.

What is a pediatrician?

Pediatricians are medical doctors who care for children from birth to age 18. They must have at least four years of medical school. Plus, three more in specialty training in an accredited program. 

It’s to a child’s advantage to see their pediatrician through the teen years.

When should I start looking for a pediatrician?

Prospective parents should start searching when they’re four to five months along. A recent study looked at babies who saw the same pediatrician for their first six months. It revealed that those children were twice as likely to get critical health tests by age 2.

And a doctor you see often knows you better than one you’re getting to know. You can also change pediatricians at any point. Consider this as a last resort, though. A conversation with your provider can often resolve issues that might lead you to change. 

If you must change doctors, find the right one first, then request a records transfer. Inform the practice if the reason you’re leaving is something they could remedy. They’ll appreciate knowing about long call-back times or comfort levels with staff.

Before your baby turns 1, you’ll likely see your pediatrician for at least seven well-checkups. That doesn’t account for unscheduled visits. Don’t skip visits! It’s critical to be up to date on:

  • Exams
  • Screenings
  • Vaccinations

Your pediatrician will likely be there at your child’s birth. Either way, the doctor will often see your baby at the hospital or in the office during the first week after birth. 

Watch how your doctor and child interact as time passes. A child and a pediatrician can bond comfortably.

Pediatrician vs. family doctor: What’s the difference?

Family doctors see patients from infancy to their senior years. Pediatricians specialize in children’s care, from birth to 21. Training includes specific child health care needs, including behavior and issues related to kids’ maturation.

What should I ask a possible provider?

Research pediatricians in your area. Here are some points to consider and questions to ask.

  • Is it easy to visit the office? Is it convenient for you? You’ll be there a lot, especially in the early years.
  • What are their references? Ask coworkers and friends for referrals. You can also check out the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The hospital your doctor affiliates with is significant. Choose one that’s convenient and has a strong reputation. You can also refer to your insurance provider’s doctor list. Use online reviews cautiously.
  • What will your insurance cover? Contact your insurance provider to see if prospective doctors are in your network.
  • Can you schedule a meeting? Call for a meeting with a few when your list is down to finalists. Some insurance providers encourage prenatal visits, but others do not cover them. Some offices schedule group meetings rather than individual ones.
  • What questions do you have? Write them down to remember. Ask anything that concerns you. A pediatrician is important for your family’s health. Suggested questions include:
    • Are telehealth appointments available instead of an in-office visit?
    • Can you email your doctor or communicate through an online portal? This can be a valued resource for making appointments, checking test results, and more.
    • Can you schedule sick or well visits for evenings or weekends? What about same-day appointments?
    • How likely are you to see your preferred doctor if he or she is part of a group practice? Having one provider has its advantages. But seeing a group practice can be helpful, too. You can improve your chances of getting a provider on call.
    • Who will see your child if your primary doctor is unavailable?
    • What is the doctor’s availability?
    • Will your pediatrician be there at your child’s birth?
    • Would a doctor or nurse be on call for emergencies?

The choice is yours. Some parents rely on instinct. Others look at the facts. When you speak with him or her, do you feel comfortable entrusting your child’s health care to this provider?

Support staff, such as receptionists and nurses, also factor in. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can perform tasks for the doctor. 

These include:

  • Administering shots
  • Prescribing medications
  • Screening children for health problems
Mom and daughter meet with pediatrician

Do you agree with your doctor on important issues?

It’s important if your doctor shares your views on critical issues, such as:

  • Alternative or integrative health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Circumcision
  • Sleep issues
  • Vaccinations

Convictions on issues like these and others will likely impact your decision. You’ll want a doctor who can support your decisions for your child.

Other considerations:

  • Consider your preferences. They’re not superficial. They’re factors in your comfort level. Some parents might prefer a younger doctor. Others are more comfortable with a pediatrician with more experience. Your rapport with a potential provider is key.
  • Observe the office environment. A smooth-running office can be comforting. You can get a sense of this during your prenatal visit. Talk to other parents in the waiting room about the practice. What is the waiting area like? How welcoming is the staff?
  • Understand the credentials. Here’s what some common terms mean:
    • Board certified. To get this, a doctor must finish medical school and a three-year pediatric residency. It also requires a provider to pass stringent Academy of Pediatrics exams to earn certification in general pediatrics or a specialty, such as orthopaedics. 
    • AAP member. This provider adheres to the Academy’s guidelines for care and education.
    • FAAP listing. This indicates a pediatrician is an AAP member and board certified.
    • MD or DO. MD is a Doctor of Medicine. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathy. Both have the training to diagnose and treat diseases and prevent them when possible. Both are qualified to care for your child.

Trust the pediatrics team at Wilmington Health

Start your child off right with the level of care you’ve come to expect for the rest of the family at Wilmington Health. Our pediatric care team members are well-versed in their fields. They’re renowned for their knowledge and compassion for children. Learn about the Wilmington Health Pediatrics team in this virtual open house video.