Finding the Right Pediatrician

One of the first steps toward caring for the new child we are bringing into the world is choosing our baby’s doctor. These days, this decision can feel a little bit daunting. Whereas best practices were once highly standardized across obstetrics and pediatrics and doctors simply delivered decisions to compliant parents, there is now a great deal of discussion — and disagreement — about birthing practices, sleeping habits, vaccinations, medications, and other controversial topics. It is perhaps both a blessing and a curse that parents now expect themselves to be knowledgeable partners in their children’s care, and to choose practitioners who share their childrearing values.

When I was pregnant, I made appointments for informational visits with two prospective pediatricians. Afterward, I was at a bit of a loss to choose one, because truthfully I found both of them quite intimidating. I ended up choosing the doctor to whom most of my friends were going, although I hadn’t felt much rapport with him.

When my daughter was born, her new pediatrician’s practice sent a doctor over to visit her, but it was not the doctor I had chosen — he was not on call that day.  

We took our daughter home from the hospital and our little darling slept peacefully on and off for three days.  On the fourth day she woke up screaming.  To my new-mom’s ears, no infant had ever screamed with this much urgency. In a panic, I looked up the number for her pediatrician (who had still never met her) and called his practice.

The phone was answered by an icy receptionist to whom I explained that my baby wouldn’t stop screaming. A few moments later, the pediatrician came on the line. Apparently his first order of business was my emotional state.

He chided, “Calm down, calm down! Now what’s the baby’s name?”

I froze. “Wait a minute,” I said, “and I’ll think of it.”

The doctor laughed, “Call me back when you remember who your baby is.” And he meant it, because he then said goodbye and hung up.

In retrospect the anecdote is funny, but our doctor’s condescension was not what I needed at the time. And it proved to be typical of our interactions. Too often, I felt foolish for asking questions or sharing my concerns.  Luckily, our daughter’s health issues were few and far between so that I didn’t need to interact with her doctor very often.

As it turned out, our pediatrician’s bedside manner was none too successful with my daughter, either. Around the time she turned four, she said she didn’t like him and wanted a new doctor.  Specifically, she said she wanted a “girl doctor.” I suspect that preference was simply how she was able to articulate her lack of “connection” to her current pediatrician. Her feelings, combined with mine, finally motivated me to action, and I found a wonderful female doctor whom both my daughter and I could relate to.  

We are fortunate in the Bay Area to have so many wonderful and aware pediatricians to choose from. You, too, will find one who feels like a good fit for you and for your child.

Based on my own experience as a mom and on my professional life working with so many OFS families over the years, I’ve put together a brief guide to choosing your child’s pediatrician. I hope you find it helpful.

We have also included here an interview with Dr. Drew Nash, an East Bay pediatrician who has recently launched a concierge practice for local families. In this interview, he offers some great pointers for finding a pediatrician, and he also discusses how to develop and maintain a good relationship with your children’s doctor.

Ten Steps for Finding a Good Pediatrician

Step One:  Begin early.
A good rule of thumb is to begin your search for a pediatrician in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy. (If you will be moving and currently have a pediatrician you like, ask him or her for a personal referral, or for any leads about where to start looking in your new community. Also let your current pediatric office know ahead of time that you will be needing to transfer your child’s medical records.)

Step Two:  Check with your insurance company.
Most health insurance companies publish comprehensive lists of “providers” who participate in your particular plan. (You will also want to know which hospitals in your area are plan participants or are covered in case of an emergency, and exactly what services are covered at what cost.)

Step Three:  Ask for referrals.
Ask family and friends about their pediatricians. Listen particularly closely to those who have had to deal with chronic health issues. They will have a good sense of how their pediatricians work with families during trying times. Childcare centers are also good places to ask about local pediatricians; after caring for hundreds of local children, we often know with whom our families are most happy. Your own doctors, particularly your obstetrician, may also be good sources of recommendations.

Cross-reference as many recommendations as possible with the list of covered providers from your insurance company. Identify at least four potential practitioners whom you would like to consider. This is your short list.

Step Four:  Make a telephone inquiry.
Call the offices of the doctors on your short list and ask:

  • How many pediatricians are in this practice?
  • Is (potential doctor) taking new patients?
  • Does (potential doctor) do informational interviews, and if so, what does your practice charge for them?

Step Five: Consider logistics: travel and parking.
On your way to the appointment, note the travel time. Project how commute traffic might affect getting to the office when you’re in a hurry. Is parking easy to find and close to the entrance? Imagine taking a sick child with you on this trip — is it doable?

Step Six: Waiting room reconnaissance.
Notice whether the waiting room is crowded. Try to get a sense of how long the wait is. Is the waiting room clean and cheerful? Does it have interesting things for children to play with?  Is there a separate room for ill children who may be contagious? Strike up conversations with other parents and ask them about the pediatrician you’re interested in.

Step Seven:  The interview.
Make a list of questions to take with you. It's important that you find a doctor whose medical approach is consistent with your own values.

Medical Philosophy
Here are some possible topics you may want to discuss:

  • breast feeding
  • the family bed
  • age of entrance into child care
  • circumcision
  • stem cell collection
  • vaccinations
  • allergies
  • how and when antibiotics should be used
  • philosophy on discipline
  • potty training
  • the doctor’s knowledge of any specific conditions or allergies in your family

Logistical Issues
You may want to ask the pediatrician or office staff about:

  • billing
  • scheduling
  • house calls
  • same-day or drop-in appointments for sick children
  • how sick-child care is handled after hours
  • how insurance co-payments are made
  • when phone calls are returned
  • who will see your child if your pediatrician is not on duty

Step Eight: How is the chemistry?
After your informational interview, take a minute to check in with yourself. How do you feel about this doctor? Listen to your intuition; observe your comfort level. Did you feel that the doctor had time for you or did you feel rushed?  Do you feel that you could communicate well with each other? Did you feel respected, and that your concerns would be taken seriously?

Step Nine: Do a background check.
It’s a good idea to do a basic background check on your prospective pediatricians. First, you will want to make sure that you choose a pediatrician who is board-certified. In addition, if any doctor has had disciplinary action taken against him or her, there will be a report on file with the Federation of State Medical Boards. You can visit the federation’s website at or call them at (817) 868-4000 to inquire about the pediatricians you are considering.

Step Ten:  Change if you need to.
Keep in mind that nothing is irreversible. If it turns out later that the pediatrician you picked isn't quite working out, simply find a new one and move on. That's all!

Care to recommend or share some positive information about your pediatrician? No complaints or negative comments, please!