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Questions to Ask When Choosing a Pediatrician
All parents need the support of an excellent pediatrician. But it’s not always easy to find the right one for your family. That’s why it helps to interview a few doctors before you choose.
Many pediatricians are happy to do these “meet and greet” sessions with parents, says Lauren Nguyen, MD, MPH. Dr. Nguyen is a pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group in Torrance, California, one of the founding practices affiliated with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Care Network.
Below, she offers advice on the best questions to ask a doctor—and yourself—to find the right fit.
Questions to ask the doctor:
1. Are you Board-certified?
Board-certified pediatricians have passed a rigorous test from the American Board of Pediatrics to demonstrate their knowledge in general pediatrics. Board certification is not required by law, though, so not every doctor has it. Choose a doctor who has completed this extra step.
2. Where did you do your residency?
To become a pediatrician, a medical school graduate first has to complete a three-year training program called a residency.
“Residency is the time where you learn everything you need to learn to be a great doctor,” Dr. Nguyen explains. “Knowing where doctors did their residency gives you an idea of what they’re able to handle.”
For example, pediatricians who have trained at hospitals like Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have been exposed to a broad range of pediatric conditions.
3. What are your office hours?
Does the office have convenient hours, including weekends or evenings? Saturday hours can be very helpful if your baby or child gets sick on a weekend.
Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted office hours for many pediatricians. Some offices may not be open on Saturdays during the pandemic.
4. What happens if my child gets sick after hours?
At some point, every child gets sick in the middle of the night. Sometimes it will be clear you can wait until the morning to call the doctor, but other times you will need faster help.
“You should always be able to reach a nurse or physician after hours,” Dr. Nguyen says. Many offices have a 24/7 nurse advice line you can call to find out if you should take your child to the emergency room. A nurse should also be able to contact an on-call physician.
5. What are your thoughts on … ?
Ask about health care or parenting topics that are important to you. These can include breastfeeding support, antibiotic use, circumcision and more.
Another key area is vaccinations. “Vaccinations save children’s lives,” Dr. Nguyen notes. She is committed to keeping her patients up to date on immunizations and, requires children to stay on schedule. Ask about the doctor’s stance upfront.
6. What hospitals are you affiliated with?
If the doctor is affiliated with the hospital where you will deliver your baby, the doctor may be able to see your baby in the hospital. (Note: Not all pediatricians make hospital visits.)
Some pediatricians are also affiliated with a pediatric hospital. The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Care Network has approximately 200 affiliated physicians in Southern California. These affiliates, like Dr. Nguyen, enjoy expanded access to CHLA specialists should your child need that care.
7. Do you feel comfortable managing my child’s condition?
Ask this question if your child has a particular health issue or has been diagnosed prenatally with a condition. Does the doctor have experience caring for other children with this condition? Ask if he or she feels comfortable managing a patient with more complex health care needs.
Questions to ask yourself:
One of the biggest factors in choosing a doctor is your own comfort level. Your pediatrician will be someone you frequently see and call, particularly in your child’s first years of life.
After meeting a doctor, ask yourself:
- Was the doctor open to answering my questions?
- Was he or she a good listener?
- Would I feel comfortable talking to this person about my child’s health?
- Does the doctor’s philosophy of care match my beliefs?
“You really need to feel comfortable and trust your pediatrician,” Dr. Nguyen says. “Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling—a sort of gestalt sense that this is going to be a good doctor-patient relationship. It has to be a good fit.”