When you’re having a baby, you are constantly reminded how much there is to learn and how many decisions you must make for your little one.
One of the most important decisions you will make in the earliest years of your baby’s life is choosing a pediatrician.
“This health care provider will play a crucial role in your child’s life, monitoring their growth and development, providing medical care when needed and answering questions or concerns you may have along the way,” said Nicole King, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Children’s.
With so many pediatricians out there, where do you even start? It can be overwhelming to navigate the sea of options, especially if this is your first baby.
In this blog, we’ll explore five key factors to consider when selecting a pediatrician, including when to start your search, the provider’s expertise and questions to ask. By the end, you’ll better understand what to look for in a pediatric care provider and feel confident in your choice.
1. Start early
Because your baby will see this provider frequently, especially in the first weeks and months of their life, finding a pediatrician well in advance is helpful. If you can, start looking for a pediatrician during your second trimester or about three months before your baby is due.
“Prospective parents want to allow plenty of time to research, so they can find someone they feel comfortable with and trust,” Dr. King said. “That said, if you do not have a pediatrician picked when your baby is born, don’t stress. The health care providers at the hospital will likely give you a list of local pediatricians to choose from.”
2. How to research pediatricians
One of the best places to start is by asking friends and family members you trust whom they recommend. It’s helpful to hear what other people have experienced.
When gathering their recommendations, consider the office’s location, office hours and after-hours care, if they are accepting new patients and if your insurance lists them in your plan coverage.
If you are new to an area, you can also try the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “Find a Pediatrician” tool.
3. Consider skill and expertise
Because this doctor will play such an essential role in your child’s life, it’s a good idea to consider their background, credentials and philosophy of care.
Many new parents ask whether they should consider a pediatrician or a family medicine physician, an MD or DO and if board certifications are important. Here’s what to know:
Pediatricians vs. family physicians: What’s the difference?
The biggest difference between the two is the age of the patients they treat.
“Pediatricians have specialized training focused on the health and development of children from birth through adolescence,” Dr. King said. “Family medicine doctors provide primary care to patients of any age.”
Both must complete four years of medical school and a three-year residency training in their chosen specialty. Pediatricians complete a residency in pediatrics, and family doctors complete a residency in family medicine.
“Family medicine doctors also have a portion of their residency training dedicated to the care of children, but this is only a part of their training while pediatricians spend their entire residency (three years) cultivating skills in the care of children,” Dr. King said. “Pediatricians have more in-depth knowledge about the growth, development and behavior of infants, children and adolescents.”
MD or DO?
All medical doctors complete medical school. Some may graduate with an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree. Both are quality degrees with strict requirements before you can practice medicine, and both can diagnose and treat (and try to help prevent) diseases.
MDs tend to focus more on the use of traditional medicine. DOs usually have a greater focus on holistic, whole-body medicine.
[Also read “MD, DO, PA, NP, MA and More” to understand what specific medical titles mean.]
Board certification is a voluntary process that goes beyond state licensing requirements to practice medicine.
Pediatricians can become board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. You’ll notice the initials FAAP after their medical title. Family doctors are certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. You’ll see the initials FMC after their medical title.
4. Get to know the physician
Most pediatricians’ offices offer free visits to get to know them. These visits allow you to meet the doctor (and their team) and ask them questions about their style and philosophy of care for children.
Here are some questions you may want to discuss or have answered:
- How often and when are you in the office for appointments?
- Do you offer same-day appointments for sick visits?
- If my child is sick, are phone or clinic services available after hours?
- If you are unavailable, who will my child see (nurse practitioner, physician assistant or another provider) instead?
- Can you see my newborn in the hospital at birth, or if they become sick in the future and need to be hospitalized?
- Does your practice accept my insurance?
- What are your beliefs or practices regarding breastfeeding, circumcision and vaccine schedules?
- How long have you been in practice? This will allow you to decide if you prefer a physician who has been practicing longer and is more seasoned or a younger physician your child can be with for years to come.
- If you anticipate your child will have any special needs or complex medical issues: Do you have experience and confidence in this area?
5. Make an informed decision
After you have had a chance to meet the provider and other members of their care team, ask yourself if you feel you will work well together. Do you see eye-to-eye on issues that are important to you?
Remember, this provider will see your child for years to come. You want to be assured that they understand and support your decisions throughout your child’s development.
Choosing a pediatrician for your baby is an important decision that requires careful consideration.
Following these tips, you can find a specialist who will provide your baby with high-quality, compassionate care.
Remember that finding the right provider is an ongoing process, and switching providers is OK if you are not satisfied or the practice is not a good fit. To find a Banner Health pediatrician or another health care specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.