We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Finding the Right Pediatrician the First Time Around

How did you choose a pediatrician? Share your tips with this mom-to-be. ©A Patterson/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

I feel like I’ve got everything in place for my baby’s arrival next month — except for something really important. I still need to find a pediatrician, but I have no idea where to start.

This is my first baby and some of my friends have given me recommendations, but I feel that if I just go with one of their doctors I will have spent more time picking out bedding for the nursery than choosing a doctor.

Obviously, we are going to depend upon this person a lot in these coming years and I need someone to tell me how you know she/he is “the one.”

–Paging Dr. Who

Amanda: You are right, choosing a pediatrician is a big decision. Like you, I felt a bit overwhelmed. To compensate and make myself feel better, I felt the need to do a lot of homework ahead of time. I made phone calls, Internet searches and read a ton of books on how to find the best doctor for my little one. I was amazed at those who just choose their pediatrician at random, simply flipping through the insurance book and selecting a name that they liked.

But despite all my legwork, that’s essentially what we wound up doing.

T. and I were new to the area when our son C. was born and we didn’t know anyone yet to ask for pediatrician recommendations. We picked some names of doctors out of our insurance book and made appointments to interview them. Dr. Q. was supposed to be our first meeting, but I went to labor the night we were scheduled to go to her office. She seemed nice enough on the phone — she was the only one out of the handful of pediatricians who had called us back herself rather than have a nurse or secretary do it — so when it came time to choose a doctor at the hospital we went with her and haven’t looked back since.

We lucked out. I love our pediatrician, who we’ve been with for nearly eleven (!) years now. The mom to two teenage boys, she has a very calming presence and a seemingly endless amount of patience for my borderline ludicrous inquiries and speculation. Nothing seems to faze her — everything is fixable, nothing is cause for alarm. The few times we have faced a semi-serious situation, she has handled it with a collected aplomb, balancing the delicate tightrope of making sure we knew the severity of what was going on, while assuring us that everything would be OK.

If you want to go with someone that your friends recommend, go for it. After all, they like and are happy with their choices. But if you feel like you need to work for it a little bit, by all means, schedule an appointment ahead of time to interview potential candidates. Ask them how they feel about issues that are important to you — breastfeeding, co-sleeping, crying-it-out and vaccinations. Ask about general office policies — billing, how to reach the doctor in case of emergencies, etc. Then go with your gut.

Not sure you can trust your mothering instincts yet? Before you freak yourself out about the magnitude of it all, remember that you can always change your mind. If you go for a visit and don’t like him or her or aren’t crazy about the pracice, you can always choose someone else.

Good luck and congratulations!

Suzanne: I’m a planner with a capital P and when I got to the page in my pregnancy journal that suggested I interview pediatricians, I have to admit that I balked. Of course, like you say, it is a super important part of getting ready for your baby’s arrival, but in my case, I wasn’t quite sure where this interview process was going to get us.

The web turned up questions I should be asking when going on these interviews (like those suggested by The American Academy of Pediatrics) but I couldn’t help but think that any doctor in his/her right mind would have to be  agreeable to things like the recommended immunization schedule and breastfeeding.

Because really, would you go on a job interview only to sit there and say you don’t want the job? No. That wouldn’t make much sense. So why would these doctors be any different in trying to welcome a new patient?

(OK, maybe you won’t agree on infant ear piercing, but that wasn’t a deal breaker for me. And no, that wasn’t one of my interview questions.)

So I decided not to go to too much trouble conducting these interviews in person. Instead I set aside one lunch hour to make some calls. Among my criteria: proximity to home, multi-physician practice, 24/7 coverage, and of course, a practice that would accept my insurance. The rest would take care of itself, because if I showed up and some ogre was being condescending and had a backward approach to medicine, I would be out the door in no time. It wasn’t like I would be handing my newborn over for a major procedure on our first visit.  I figured I had time to get a feel for how comfortable I was with the personality and approach of whatever practice we chose.

And that’s exactly how it happened. We were lucky to get it right on the first shot, and even though we have since moved a little further from the medical office where the six-physician practice is located, I never hesitated to stay with them. They weren’t affiliated with the hospital where I delivered (also not a deal breaker since there’s always someone to see your baby in the hospital) but they have been there for us for a quick strep test at 8 a.m. on school days and for our 2 a.m. calls about seizures. The primary doctor who sees both my son and daughter has the most comforting way of communicating, and there’s nothing he’s said that I haven’t trusted (being a cynic working in the medical field, that means a lot).

So I encourage you to go with your gut instinct. Don’t sweat the “process” but make some calls and let that surging mother’s intuition do its job. And if it’s not exactly what you envisioned once the relationship is underway, feel free to take one of your friends up on a recommendation. By the time baby is here, you will have a better feel for what matters in a pediatrician and who will be the most supportive of the parenting style you develop.

Best to you and the baby!

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How did you choose a pediatrician? Any additional advice for Dr. Who?

If you’ve got a question that needs two answers, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.