The Right Prescription: Finding the Perfect Pediatrician
Finding a pediatrician who fits with your family can be challenging. Before you start your search, it helps to know what kind of parent you are.
Click into any online parenting group, and you’ll see this question almost immediately: “Who’s got a recommendation for a great pediatrician?” Whether you’re on your first child or your fifth, having a doctor you like, respect, and — perhaps most importantly, can get in touch with fast – makes every parent’s life easier.
The challenge, of course, is finding that unicorn-like doctor. Moms and dads trade tips, and Facebook groups offer another string of possibilities, but when it’s time to make the decision, it’s your child, and your lifestyle, that need to match up with a pediatrician.
Finding a Pediatrician for Your Family
Parents have their strong feelings about a whole spectrum of topics, from breastfeeding to vaccination schedules. One mom’s favorite pediatrician might not jibe with another dad’s views on co-sleeping, and the doctor your mommy-and-me group raves about might rub you the wrong way.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a handy list of questions to ask when you’re looking for a new doctor, including where a doctor went to school, whether they take your insurance, and what the office hours and communication methods are. But once you’ve gotten those answers, you’re down to what’s essentially a personal decision. Which then raises the obvious question: What kind of parent – and patient — are you?
Dr. Kristen Slack, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care, Haverford, suggested that parents should take a step back and ask themselves what they value in their visits with their own doctors.
“Medicine really is a science, but the practice of medicine is sort of an art, and people prefer different styles,” she said.
For example, a mom who’s devoted to attachment parenting might ask a potential pediatrician how she might help her through nursing difficulties, or how he feels about bed-sharing with an infant. A mom or dad who’s more inclined to put most decisions in the doctor’s hands might be more interested in how well-versed that pediatrician is in the most cutting-edge medicine.
Finding a Pediatrician Who Listens
Slack and another local pediatrician, Dr. Michelle Karten, agreed that a top priority is a doctor who’s willing and able to listen to what you have to say – about your preferences, and about your child’s medical issues.
“I feel that sometimes in that physician-parent dialogue, you have to make sure the person who you’re dealing with is fully available to what you’re saying,” said Karten, a doctor at Nemours duPont Pediatrics in Villanova.
Also important, Karten said, is finding a doctor who will take the time to explain treatment options and what parents need to do for a child. No parent should walk out of a doctor’s office unsure of what they’re supposed to do next.
An in-depth chat with a doctor might also allow a doctor to offer more than one way to handle an issue, such as sleep training, Slack said. Parents shouldn’t shy away from asking to have a conversation outside an office visit, either, she said.
“It’s nice to find a physician who can offer you a couple of different approaches, so it can feel more tailored to what’s appropriate for your family,” Slack said. “The great thing about physicians, and pediatricians in particular, is we really are kind of lifelong students. I know the first thing that I do when a parent mentions something to me that I haven’t heard about: I immediately start reading about it.”
Other Things to Consider When Finding a Pediatrician
Other big questions include access: to the doctor, the rest of the practice, and nurses. Many modern practices, especially those associated with the big hospital and health care companies, give parents the option to communicate with doctors and nurses electronically. That can mean everything from the ability to send a picture of a particularly bad diaper rash via email to a video consultation with a real live doctor.
Old-fashioned phone calls are still important, Karten and Slack said. When your child has a high fever on a Saturday night, or takes a tumble down the stairs on Christmas Eve, it’s a huge relief to be able to talk to a person about what to do – especially if the alternative is a long wait in the emergency room.
But for many parents, it’s the face-to-face interaction that makes, or breaks, a relationship with a doctor. Disagreements over a family’s practices, or the doctor’s suggestion for treatment, can feel huge to parents, and intimidating.
What should a parent do then?
Keep talking, Slack said. It’s critical that parents be honest with their child’s doctor. If a parent accidentally forgets to finish a course of antibiotics, for example, and is too nervous to tell the doctor, a child could end up receiving the wrong treatment for a persistent infection. If a parent has strong feelings about, say, vaccination schedules, she should address that directly, Slack said.
“If you ever kind of leave the office feeling mistreated or unheard, or just afraid of telling the truth … then that is just a sign that you are not in the right place,” Slack said. “You definitely need to find someone who makes you feel the opposite.”
Slack said that even if she disagrees with a parent’s approach about one area of a child’s treatment, she’d still prefer to keep seeing the family, so that she could ensure a child’s health in other ways.
If you’re unhappy, make a change – no matter what anyone says. Slack and Karten emphasized that the greater Philadelphia area is rich with fine hospitals and great doctors. With some care, you can find the pediatrician who’s right for you.
“For me, a lot of it really comes down to understanding my role, and knowing that there are many ways, often, to understand that a child is healthy … There are many situations where there’s no clear right or wrong, as long as we keep the overall health in mind,” Karten said. “I do think my job is to sort of give that educational piece as to why the medicine is important, and what the evidence supports, but it’s never a bullying approach. You have to be an advocate, but also a cheerleader for the family.”
Ardmore Chestnut Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
(offices in Ardmore and Center City Philadelphia)
Nemours Dupont Pediatrics
Advocare Society Hill Pediatrics
(Center City, Philadelphia)
Alexis Lieberman and Fairmount Pediatrics
Photograph by Casey Kallen.