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Find the Perfect Pediatrician

Finding a good pediatrician is one of the most important assignments of parenthood.

The search for a good pediatrician may become a matter of trial and error, but finding out when, where, who, why and what to look for can help smooth the way. Start with when. Don’t wait until the last minute — that is, after the baby’s born or adopted. Who wants an unfamiliar face examining your pride and joy? You want someone that you and your partner have interviewed, whose credentials you have checked and with whom you have established a relationship. After the first trimester or once the adoption paperwork has been finalized, ask friends and neighbors who they use and if they’re happy with their pediatricians. (Some parents may continue with a pediatrician they’re not happy with only because the doctor accepts their insurance plan or because they like the office’s location.)

Factors to Consider

Once you’ve compiled a list of recommended pediatricians, contact your health insurance company or check its website to cross-reference approved providers with the names on your list. Next check with the American Board of Pediatrics or the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to ensure the pediatrician is board certified in pediatrics. According to the ABMS, “Certification obtained through one of the ABMS member boards denotes that a physician has gone beyond the minimum requirement necessary for licensure and provides assurance that a physician has the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience needed to deliver optimum care in a specific area of medicine.” In addition, continuing education and recertification requirements are often required.

Another helpful designation is that of Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP), meaning that the physician not only received board certification in pediatrics, but has also made a commitment to lifelong learning and advocacy for children. Finally, check with the Maryland Board of Physicians to research pediatricians’ educational backgrounds, which hospitals they have privileges with, and known disciplinary actions by the state medical board. These checks may seem like a lot of work, but they only take a few minutes at each website.

Location is another important factor. While driving 30 minutes to a doctor might not seem like a big deal at the moment, consider another scenario. Your little one is screaming with an acute ear infection, diaper rash or other ailment. You’ll want help right away, not a half-hour (or more) later. The lesson here: find a pediatrician as close as possible.

Once you’ve narrowed your list, it’s time to call for a prenatal visit. Most pediatricians offer and encourage this introductory meeting free of charge, but always check. Try to schedule the appointment so that both parents can attend the meeting. You and your partner may have different concerns and questions. Make up a list of questions and take them with you to the appointment. The sidebar contains several pertinent questions that you may want to consider adding to your own concerns.

Look Beyond the Doctor

Dr. Tina L. Cheng, chief of the division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, offers some advice. “In finding a pediatrician, it is often said that the three A’s are important: Affable, available and able,” begins Dr. Cheng. “These characteristics are extremely important along with being a good listener and a caring person. If one does not feel comfortable asking questions about medical, behavioral and psychosocial issues that affect one’s child, the fit may not be right.”

Dr. Cheng adds that you should look beyond the doctor. “The pediatrician is important but one must also be comfortable with the other staff in the practice and how the practice is run.”

Jennifer and Kenneth Sevec of Crofton began prenatal visits in their last trimester. With a list of twelve questions in hand, they knew their list would grow once they began talking to doctors. As a librarian for the Library of Congress, Sevec knows how to do her research, which she began after receiving some referrals from friends, family and another couple in her birthing class. “After the referrals, we did some legwork on our own,” she says. “Referrals are good, but we like to check too.”

Is all this really important? It sure is when you’re dealing with someone who’s taking care of your pride and joy. A less-than-perfect pediatrician or pediatric office is just that, so try not to settle for anything less. Save your notes; you may need them down the road should you have to change pediatricians. If it doesn’t work out with the first pediatrician, don’t stick around and hope it gets better. Find someone else, even if in the same practice.

Specialized Care

Another consideration is a specialist, which hopefully won’t be needed. If your baby requires specialized medical care, however, all the same principles apply that you used to find a pediatrician. Start with your health insurance company and then ask your current pediatrician for a recommendation/referral. The Washington D.C./Baltimore corridor has the unique advantage of two world-renowned pediatric care: Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore and the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Both offer tremendous resources in specialized care.

Jamie and Trey Thomas of Waldorf discovered their son, Brandon, had a heart condition shortly after birth. The condition has required two surgeries — one when Brandon was 4 and another at age 10. Though Brandon is currently a healthy, personable and active 12-year-old, he requires ongoing monitoring and will possibly need additional surgeries. Choosing the right specialist was obviously a very important decision to the Thomas family.

“I was tossed between two and I chose this one in particular because of his track record of his previous patients and the detail that he goes through for each appointment,” explains Brandon’s mother. As anyone who’s ever dealt with a serious medical condition knows, all too often unanswered questions remain after meeting with a doctor. Not so with this pediatric cardiologist. “Each time we saw him, we had no questions after we left and I didn’t have that level of comfort with the others,” she says.

One final consideration is your child, once he or she is old enough to voice an opinion. Many parents wonder if a child’s opinion of a pediatrician really matters. “I would definitely think so,” offers Dr. Edda Weissberg, a child clinical psychologist, based in Annapolis. “Children are much more insightful than adults are many times for reading people and situations.”

According to Dr. Weissberg, communication is of utmost importance between a pediatrician and a child. “You need to have a child feel comfortable in communication, because you can’t depend totally on parents. Parents tend to put words in their children’s mouths without realizing it.” Dr. Weissberg urges some restraint though. She firmly believes that parents should not automatically jump to accommodate their children’s demands, but should listen to their opinions and consider their requests.

Donna L. Cole is a freelance writer living in the Annapolis area. Having fired two pediatricians before her daughter was 6 months, Cole feels fortunate to have found one she thinks is perfect.

Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in the Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Bowie, Baltimore, Calvert and Prince George’s County and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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