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How to Choose a Pediatrician

Pediatrician talking to infant

Finding the right pediatrician is an important part of making sure your child receives the best possible care in the right setting for you. From well visits, vaccines and sniffles to growing pains, asthma, diet and behavioral issues, a pediatrician is more than a doctor, they're partners in your child's overall health and well-being.

The following information is a guide designed to help you choose a doctor who is focused on the one child that matters most … yours.

What is a pediatrician?

To become a pediatrician, a doctor must take special courses for three or more years after medical school. This is called a pediatric residency. To become board certified, a pediatrician must pass a written examination given by the American Board of Pediatrics. To keep current on changes in children's health care, pediatricians must recertify by taking examinations every seven years. They also must take a certain number of continuing medical education (CME) courses each year to be eligible for license renewal in the state in which they practice.

These are good things to know as you begin your search. Taking these few extra steps will help you to choose a pediatrician that you and your child can develop a growing relationship with. It's like homework, in the end, you'll be much wiser.

Why choose a pediatrician?

Infants and children have very different needs from adults, both physical and emotional. Unlike adults, their bodies are constantly growing and changing. Pediatricians are specially trained to prevent and manage the unique health problems of infants, children, teens, and in some cases, young adults. Pediatricians are also excellent partners for you as they help you navigate the challenges of parenthood.

Why choose Cook Children's?

Cook Children's pediatricians are not just kid friendly, they're kid only. Whether it's a routine checkup or something more serious, our pediatricians care for children as they grow up – from the toddler tummy bug to the 4th grade flu and up to the high school athlete's sprained ankle, even parenting advice – we're with you every inch of the way.

And Cook Children's complete network, of medical care provides a safety net for your child. We offer a growing number urgent care locations, two emergency medicine locations that are supported by our Teddy Bear Transport team, nationally recognized specialties and brilliant medical minds, and some of the most incredible medical technology available anywhere in the world. Plus a retail pharmacy and a Home Health program. And because your child's medical history follows them, you can count on consistent care no matter where they go in our network.

No matter how big or small the need, Cook Children's pediatricians are here to help kids grow up healthy and happy. Because we believe childhood, from birth all the way through the teen years, should be simple.

How to begin your search

One of the first things to do is determine what kind of health coverage you have. If you're in a managed health care plan, your choice of participating doctors who provide primary care for children may be limited, so be sure to check the plan's online list because paper lists can quickly become outdated.

If you have questions about whether a doctor participates in your plan or if you're interested in a doctor who isn't on the list, call your health plan directly to discuss your options. Also call if your child has any special medical needs that would require an out-of-network doctor to learn what kinds of options and limitations you may have.

Once you know the limits of your health plan, you are ready to begin compiling a list of potential pediatric candidates to interview. A great place to start is by asking friends, family and coworkers what pediatrician their children see. Find out what they like about that particular doctor and if they've ever seen other doctors within the same practice.

If there is a pediatric health care network, visit their Website to learn about their pediatricians and to see what additional services are available such as specialist, urgent or emergency care.

Interviewing potential pediatricians

The following is a list of interview questions to help you in your search for a pediatrician. You may also find that the list brings up a few questions of your own. That's a good thing. Write those down as well and take them along with you. This should help you make a good, informed choice.

Download Interview Questions

Things to consider during the visit

  • How many patients are waiting? If there are a lot, is it because the office overbooks, or because the doctor is spending additional time with a patient who needs it? You might want to ask other parents if this is normal.
  • Is there a place where sick kids can be separated from those who are there for a well visit?
  • Is the reception area clean and child-friendly? (Realize that children have been in the office all day long, so it may be cluttered, but it should still be clean.)
  • Is the office staff friendly?
  • Is the office staff helpful?
  • How does the staff speak to others in the waiting area or on the phone?
  • When you tour the exam rooms, are they clean?

Questions to ask staff during the visit

  • What are the office hours? Are there evening or weekend hours to accommodate working parents?
  • Does a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) work in the office? If so, what is his/her role in the practice?
  • Is emergency coverage available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
  • When is the best time to call with routine questions?
  • Do nurses screen phone calls?
  • If the doctor is not available to speak on the phone, who will handle your questions? Is email an option for communicating with your doctor?
  • Does the practice use an electronic medical record that may make it easier to transfer your child's health information, fill out forms, and schedule appointments?
  • Does the practice have its own website that provides helpful advice and access to reliable health educational material, or password protected access to directly view your child's test results?
  • Does the practice have an after-hours answering service?
  • Is the after-hours phone service tied in with a university or children's hospital or a nurse-on-call system? Where are patients referred after hours?
  • Is there access to specialists and intensive care if needed?
  • What are the payment policies (this is especially important if you do not have prepaid health coverage)?
  • What are the fees for services?
  • Must they be paid in full at the time of the visit or can payment plans be arranged?

Questions for the pediatrician

  • Does the pediatrician see parents as partners in a child's care?
  • What are the doctor's philosophies on circumcision? Breastfeeding? Use of antibiotics and other medications? Diet? Parenting styles?
  • Does the doctor focus on preventive care, including immunizations, child safety, and nutrition?
  • Will he/she visit your newborn in the hospital?
  • What is his/her pediatric background?
  • Is he/she board certified through the American Board of Pediatrics?
  • Is he/she a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics?
  • Does he/she have a subspecialty or area of pediatric interest? If so, what is it?
  • Should your baby need to be admitted to a hospital, what hospital does the doctor send them to?
  • Who are the doctors who will care for my child if my pediatrician in not available?
  • Are they on staff at the same hospital?
  • Are these doctors board certified?
  • If your child needs to see a specialist, how does the pediatrician handle referrals?
  • What is his/her policy with regard to second opinions?
  • If you are in a health management organization (HMO), it's important to ask how your doctor handles out-of-network referrals.
  • Ask any additional questions and express any other concerns you may have.

What to consider after the visit

  • Did the pediatrician listen to your questions and concerns attentively?
  • Did the pediatrician answer your questions and respond to your concerns patiently and clearly?
  • Did the pediatrician seem genuinely interested in you?
  • Did you trust this pediatrician?

Keep track of your child's health

At Cook Children's, we believe childhood should be simple. And so should keeping track of your child's medical history and needs. Our family medical planner was created by families for families. From that very first newborn checkup, to immunizations, and even complex illnesses, our family medical planner will help you stay organized. Because after all, we think parenthood should be simple too.

Find a Cook Children's pediatrician near you