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A Realistic Checklist to Picking a Pediatrician

A Realistic Checklist to Picking a Pediatrician

By Amalah

I still distinctly remember the rising anxiety I experienced throughout my first pregnancy as the deadline for choosing a pediatrician approached. My OB and the hospital both stressed how important it was – you can’t take the baby home unless you’ve chosen a pediatrician and made the first check-up appointment! And my friends all kept asking me about it – have you chosen your pediatrician yet? I know a great pediatrician…who is totally geographically inconvenient to you and doesn’t accept your insurance! You should chose them!

It felt, at the time, like choosing a pediatrician was my very first major decision as a parent and thus my first opportunity to get it completely wrong.

I didn’t though, and neither will you. And there’s also the little-talked-about fact that if you choose a pediatrician and then later decide you don’t like that pediatrician, you are totally allowed to choose a DIFFERENT pediatrician. At any point, for any reason!

I ended up loving the first practice I chose, but not necessarily all of the doctors. I found a couple favorites and requested regular appointments with them, but was grateful the practice had enough staff to always have someone available for same-day sick visits.

Then I got pregnant for the third time and they dropped our insurance. I found what I thought was a similar practice and ended up HATING it. (They repeatedly missed a somewhat serious infection my middle child had, and were very pushy about sleep training via full-on CIO when my youngest was only 12 weeks old, which nah, sorry) I stuck with them for about a year, at which point our insurance changed and I went running back to practice number one.

And now we’ve moved. And I am once again looking for a pediatrician.

Luckily, while moving your child/children from one practice to another is a bit of a paperwork pain, I at least feel like now I know what to look for, what questions to ask…and am relaxed enough to know that if I later find it’s not a good fit for whatever reason, it’s not the end of the world to switch things up again. Questions to ask and things to consider:

Do they accept your insurance?

Are they accepting new patients?

Do they offer a new patients’ orientation night or other introduction/overview of the practice where you can ask specific questions? (Excellent time to feel them out on sensitive topics like breast and bottle feeding, sleep training, vaccines, potty training, etc.)

Do they make rounds at the hospital where you plan to give birth? (Not a dealbreaker if they don’t, just know that the on-call pediatrician might not accept your insurance and you can incur extra charges for the in-hospital checks.)

Do they offer lactation services or recommend/work with a local lactation consultant?

Do they have a website? How useful/functional is it (i.e. can you make appointments online, fill out forms ahead of time, get OTC dosage charts, etc.)?

What’s the contact policy? Is a nurse available to answer basic health questions over the phone? Can you email with the doctor?

What are the same-day sick visit policies? How easy is it to get your child seen on short notice? Is there a separate entrance/waiting room for sick or contagious children?

How long can your child stay with the practice? (18, through college, etc.)

Do they offer flu or booster vaccines to parents?

What additional services/screenings do they offer? (Hearing/vision, developmental evaluations, Autism, ADHD, etc.)

Beyond these questions, remember to trust your instincts and first impressions of the practice and its staff. Does the front desk staff seem friendly and organized or kind of rude and frantic? Does the doctor seem to really listen you and make eye contact or does he/she start answering your question before you’ve even finished talking? And above all: Do you feel at ease in the office and in the doctor’s presence, or anxious and defensive?

What’s the number one thing you look for in a pediatrician or practice? What advice do you wish you could go back and give your own first-timer self?

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • MJH

    November 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

    We were very fortunate to already have a family doctor we liked (with kids of her own) so we just stuck with her. I kind of assumed you had to choose a pediatrician, but really you can just go to a family practice, and they are super happy to see babies because they don’t always get to!

    (Still worth asking questions like the ones on Amy’s list, though.)

  • Ros

    November 23, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Caveat: I don’t know if this applies in the US, but here in Quebec (and I think the rest of Canada), you can get a pediatrician for your kid, or you can get appointments with a family doctor.

    If you kid has specific issues, a pediatrician can be a better choice, but otherwise, a family doctor working in a clinic can be a GREAT choice for check-ups, basic issues (Low fever? Earache? Flu and possible dehydration? etc), and it means that everyone seems the same MD (convenient, and also relationship-building and a good knowledge of family history), and no one ages out of the practice.

  • Ali

    November 23, 2015 at 10:40 am

    One question I’d add to the list is how they handle overnight call.  If your baby has a fever in the night and you call their number–do you just get a service? or does one of the pediatricians actually call you back?  I’ve only used this once, but actually speaking to a doctor in the night is reassuring!  

    We go to a small office with 3 doctors. They handle their own overnight call.  You always go to well checks with your specific doctor, but may have to see another one for sick visits (and you’re always guaranteed a same day sick visit).  These policies have worked well for us!  

    Some practices around here only do “meet and greet” nights for expectant parents, but most will allow you to make a (free!) introductory appointment for doctors you are interviewing.  I really wanted to meet a doctor in person before choosing, so that’s how i found ours.  If they aren’t willing to spend 10 minutes meeting you before establishing a many-years relationship, I wasn’t interested in using them as our pediatrician! 

  • Mary

    November 23, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    This wasn’t a big deal for us at all. I was warned during pregnancy that I would need to have someone lined up. So I tried calling and all the local practices seemed very confused and just told me to call after my son was actually born. Basically I just went with the practice closest to our house abd they have been fine. I don’t pay attention to the parenting advice and luckily my kid has been very healthy so far, so it’s all good.

  • Sheila

    November 23, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I also remember reading checklists of questions like “What degree did you earn?” and then corrections to the checklist like “A better question would be, why did you decide to go into pediatrics?” and getting completely overwhelmed. I just asked for recommendations and went with the person most recommended who took our insurance.

    I knew he was the right person when I took my first baby in for her 2-day-after-hospital-discharge appointment. She had lost just over 10% of her birth weight in the hospital and breastfeeding was not going well and I was in a right state. I desperately wanted to know if she had gotten back over that 10% mark. And instead of being condescending about how I was overreacting, or yelling at me for not supplementing with formula, he was perfect. He could tell I was about to lose it if I didn’t know the 10% thing right away, so he started converting pounds and ounces into metric so he could do the 10% calculation and very reassuringly told me that she was fine. I was SO grateful for how he treated me that day and he hasn’t disappointed me since.

  • Emily

    November 23, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Right now, in the infant stage, I’m most grateful for the lactation consultant, 24-hour nurse line and same day sick appointments. Our practice has multiple locations and one of them is even open on Sundays to see sick kids! It’s been a life saver with my daycare baby.

    I chose our pediatrician mostly by gut instinct. The practice had an open house for expectant parents and I found her to be reassuringly knowledgeable but calm. I just really like talking with her, and I trust her advice.

  • Bettany

    November 23, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Another thing to look for is a practice where there are separate waiting rooms got sick and well kids. It’s nice to not have to worry so much about picking up the latest bug while you’re taking your baby for his one month well child visit.

  • Traci

    November 23, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    We just went with our family doctor. She is a single practice doctor and does everything herself (no nurse). She’s quite amazing. She let us know she handled babies but didn’t make us feel like we had to use her. I like that she knows us. I think it allows her to give us better advice in regards to the baby. I like that she’ll spend a half hour with us and we never feel rushed. She’s always good about sneaking you in same-day and she will take calls at any time. The only drawback is that her hours are more limited than a group practice might be, but that’s what urgent care is for.

  • Melinda

    November 23, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I move when my daughter was 3 months and starred calling around to different places-none had appointments for weeks! Then I called a practice located in the hospital & operated by the local university.

    On the phone I just asked the receptionist for the nicest doctor. It’s worked out fantastically. He even had me friend him on Facebook so I could shoot him questions if need be.

    Plus, the practice is large enough that I can always get appointments. Sometimes they have a student doctor check her first then my usual doctor will come in and very carefully examine her a second time to show the student what they missed or how to do it properly.

  • Lindsay

    November 24, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Proximity to home was a big one for us, at least initially. When I brought my just-out-of-the-NICU preemie home it was really nice to have a pediatrician just five minutes away. He also answered after-hours calls himself, which was great. Then we moved and had to choose a new practice. Now that we have a very healthy 2-year-old, I don’t mind driving 20 minutes to get to the doctor’s office. I do really like that I can get same day appointments when he’s sick and they even have some weekend hours. But mostly it comes down to how you feel about the doctor – do you feel respected or talked down to, that sort of thing.

  • Amy Renee

    November 24, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Honestly? We looked at google maps, picked the pediatrician closest to our house, checked to make sure he took our insurance, and went with it. We got lucky in that he is an awesome pediatrician, but honestly, IMO, 5 minutes away and ok is probably more important that 30+ minutes away but amazing super awesome – because no one wants to drive far away with a sick kid unless 100% necessary.

    We also live in a small town, so we have a choice of 2 pediatricians, 2 dentists, 2 hair salons and 2 barbers, etc – it makes life much simpler sometimes when you don’t have to choose between a million choices. If you live in a more populated area you may have more options to weed through, but honestly, looking at Google Maps plus your insurance network might be the quickest way to weed down to just a few choices you can then ask around for.

    Bonuses that we got with our super awesome pediatrician, in addition to his amazing bedside manner and great staff:
    -Admitting privileges at the hospital nearest our house (and in our insurance network)
    -Electronic health records, which means I don’t have to keep track of paper records. It also means I can log in and see the results if my husband takes the kids to their appointments, so I know what’s going on without having to actually be there.
    -Double bonus in that the electronic health record is tied to the local hospital records, so when we wound up at the ER in the middle of the night we didn’t have to take any paperwork to the doctor for our followup – he could see right on the electronic chart all the records from the ER visit, including the baby’s temperature and exactly which antibiotics and other interventions they gave him.

    Last, even if the doctor is great, don’t be afraid to switch practices if the staff is terrible or logistics that just don’t work out. I’ve bounced around through various OBGYN and GPs offices because while the doctor was great, I just couldn’t deal with rude staff, months long backlogs for appointments, screwed up billing, etc.

  • Cindy

    November 24, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Two other thoughts –
    1) my dr allows email communication, with a response time of less than a day most of the time. Great for questions that aren’t urgent between well child appointments – I actually use this a lot and love having the option

    2) which hospital they are affiliated with if something serious happens – I delivered at the private/really nice small hospital (my ped doesn’t round there which was fine), but love that my ped is affiliated with the major leading research hospital (Stanford) if I ever needed specialists.

  • Sorcha

    November 24, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    I have never been more grateful to live in a country with universal health care (Spain, for what it’s worth). The local health centre assigned our daughter a pediatrician from birth (you can change to another one in the same centre if necessary), all records across hospitals and doctors are electronic and accessible to all health professionals in the system, same-day appointments are always available and after hours there is a phone service staffed by caring doctors and nurses. Most importantly, from day one they have given her excellent care for free. I’m Irish originally, and would love to see the same system back home. Maybe this doesn’t exactly help but if anybody reading has influence I can totally recommend the Spanish system.