Thirty years ago when I was about to open my practice, my professor told me that there are three qualities parents look for in a pediatrician (or other health care provider): that the doctor is affable, able, and available. Of course, he was right, but I've since discovered that it's not as simple as three A's. If that were the case, the perfect doctor for the child of your neighbor or your cousin would also be the best for your little one! But other factors -- such as the doctor's views on different parenting styles and your child's specific needs -- come into play too. That's why it's always a good idea to do a little legwork when shopping for a pediatrician, especially since you're forging a long-term partnership with one of your baby's most important caregivers. Making this decision can seem daunting, but it doesn't need to be. Here, what you need to know to choose a pediatrician and make the most of the relationship:
Defining What's Important
If you figure out which qualities you want in your child's doctor before you start your search, you'll have a better chance of finding one who fits your needs. Questions to ask yourself right up front:
Do you want help deciding which parenting style will work best for you, or are you a veteran parent with firmly rooted beliefs who simply needs a medically strong pediatrician? For example, if a parent is struggling with certain philosophies -- such as whether to have her baby sleep in her bed, how long to breastfeed, or which discipline method would work best for her child -- I'll help her come to a decision.
How much does location matter? Do you have the time to travel, or do you have a tight schedule and need a doctor's office that's close to your home or workplace?
Would you or your child prefer a male or a female practitioner? While it won't make a difference to an infant or a toddler, you might want to think ahead and consider that teenagers usually prefer doctors of their same gender. (In a group practice with male and female physicians, though, a child of any age can become comfortable with both.)
Does your child have special needs? If he has a chronic illness, such as diabetes or asthma, for instance, you'll want to choose a pediatrician with expertise in that area (in addition to a specialist, of course).
Contributing editor William Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and coauthor of The Baby Book.