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How to Get the Most From Your Pediatrician

During my 32 years as a doctor, I've grown to appreciate that pediatrics is a partnership between me and my patients. That's why several years ago, when my two oldest sons joined our practice, I gave them the doctorly and fatherly advice to be humble enough to learn from the parents of the babies and kids they care for. Parents teach me how to be a better doctor and, in doing so, play a huge part in making sure their children get the best I have to offer. To do the same with your child's pediatrician:

Start off on the right foot. At your first visit, let her know that you're seeking a high level of medical care. When Jim and Deborah, a couple who were expecting their first baby, interviewed me as a prospective pediatrician, the first thing out of Jim's mouth was, "Doctor, this is a well-researched baby." From there, he politely drilled me with questions, including the usual "What are your hours?" and "Are you always on call?" as well as more probing ones, such as whether I had a lactation consultant on staff in case Deborah had any trouble with breastfeeding, and how much time they could expect from me at well-baby visits.

It was obvious that picking the right pediatrician meant a lot to them, and they'd done their homework. Most doctors will deeply appreciate this kind of approach  -- and they also appreciate politeness. Even a few kind words about their practice goes a long way in establishing rapport. And call me old-fashioned, but I do enjoy getting personal notes from parents (or even the kids themselves). In fact, I still have a letter posted on my wall from a 7-year-old who didn't like being examined. It reads: "Dear Dr. Bill: I'm sorry I kicked you. I was having a bad day. Love, Isaac."

William Sears, M.D., a pediatrician, author, and a dad of eight, is a Parenting contributing editor.

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