Must-Know Tips for Finding the Right Pediatrician

Questions to ask when choosing for your child’s first doctor.


Your pediatrician will be a big part of your child’s life. The visits you make to the doctor during your child’s first year can be an exciting time tracking changes, monitoring growth, and learning about your child’s development. Your pediatrician is also your guide for helping your child get through viral illnesses and is trained to provide information and education about everything from colic to immunizations and more.

But before you start planning those first year’s visits, all hospitals require that your family doctor or pediatrician examine your baby within 24 hours of delivery (before you are discharged from the hospital), and again within 24 hours of discharge (if your stay is longer than 2 days). Rules may vary from state to state, so contact your hospital to find out their specific rules and regulations.

Note: Don’t panic if you don’t find a pediatrician before giving birth. According to pediatrician JJ Levenstein, hospitals will assign a pediatrician if no one is chosen, either from the ER’s pediatric panel or one of the NICU staff.

Some expectant parents pick their prospective pediatrician from their list of insurance-provided doctors; others take the recommendation of close friends. But if you’re one of many expectant parents who plan on interviewing one or more pediatricians, there are a few things you will probably want to review and discuss before, and during, your meeting.

When you call to schedule an interview, you can first ask some questions of the office staff. What you learn from the receptionist or nurse can either reinforce your decision to meet with the doctor, or possibly exclude that doctor. Your list of questions for office staff should be short and to the point:

If the doctor does not take insurance – or your insurance – and you would still like to move forward with the practice, you should ask them about their payment policy. Most likely, the office will require full payment at the time of each visit and after services are rendered; paperwork will be given to you to send to your insurance company.

Office Hours
If you are a working parent, extended or flexible hours will be important to you. Ask the office staff about evening and weekend hours.

Interview Fees
Some doctors charge for the interview. Ask up front if you must pay and whether that payment is applied to a future visit. Most physicians will see you for this consultation gratis.

Private Interviews or Group Interviews
Some doctors schedule group interviews with 4-5 parents, while others will see you privately. As most physicians are busy seeing patients during the day, group interviews can be a way for the physician to grab needed free time for either patient care or family life. It’s not necessarily a negative.

After Hours Questions
New parents have more than a few questions. Knowing that your doctor is just a phone call away is reassuring. Ask about who answers questions during office hours (generally it will be the nurse for routine newborn issues). The majority of physicians prefer that nighttime calls are for true medical emergencies only.

Lactation Specialists
If you are planning on breastfeeding, having access to a lactation specialist can be an invaluable resource. If the office does not have one on staff, knowing your doctor has a specialist to refer to is important.

Your file of questions might be an inch thick, but you’ll probably only have 10-20 minutes, so pick and choose what is most important to you. These days you can find out a lot about a doctor’s background on the Internet. At the interview, ask the questions whose answers can’t be found on the doctor’s website. After all, a pediatrician’s resume won’t let you know his/her view about sleep training, night calls or the breadth of advice given during well care exams. Pick and choose the topics that are important to you; you don’t have to go over all of them… unless you want to!

If you’re planning on bottle-feeding and sleep training your child, you might feel uncomfortable with a physician who continually inquires about your progress with breastfeeding and sings the praises of the family bed. Similarly, if you would like to raise your child as a vegan, you might not enjoy hearing about the benefits of cow’s milk in your toddler’s diet.

Feel free to ask the doctor about his/her opinion on feeding, sleeping, and diet.

There are varying opinions on immunizations: how many should be given at each visit, at what age they should be given, and even if they should be given at all. If you have a strong opinion about immunizations, or are fearful, you will need to discuss this at this visit.

How involved is your doctor in your family’s life? Does he/she plan on seeing you for all regular visits and illnesses? Does the doctor welcome non-medical questions, developmental questions and other queries at checkup time?

Some doctors work solo, while others work with another doctor in their practice. Some offices have three, four or even more doctors. Some offices schedule different doctors for your child’s check-ups, while some have PNPs or PAs involved in care.

Different offices might have different systems of which doctors you will see, when you can call the office and who will answer your questions. They can range from completely open policies to quite structured systems. For example, some offices rotate amongst the doctors in the practice for night calls, while other offices share on-call responsibilities with other practices in their network or community. Some offices relegate night calls to nurse on-call services, and others simply refer all ill patients to emergency departments. It is important that you are comfortable with your office’s handling of night calls and emergencies.

At this point, you will hopefully have enough information to make the best decision for you and your child. And don’t stress – if your doctor does not turn out to be the right fit, you can always change doctors down the road.

This article was reviewed by JJ Levenstein, MD, FAAP. Dr. Levenstein is a pediatrician in Encino, California, as well as the president of MD Moms.