Besides parents and relatives, few actors in a child’s life are quite as important as their pediatrician. With their specialized knowledge and extensive training, pediatricians are uniquely positioned to help you manage your child’s healthcare and protect their wellbeing.

You typically start looking for a pediatrician before you give birth, as children begin having appointments early in infancy. However, if your pediatrician retires or you move to a new city, you also will find yourself in the position of finding a new physician to attend to your kid.

Pediatrician vs. Family Doctor

Pediatricians are doctors who attend four years of medical school and then spend their three years of medical residency working in pediatrics, or the branch of medicine that involves the care of infants, children, and adolescents. There is some overlap between the education and duties of pediatricians and family doctors. They both receive the same education during medical school.

Family practitioners, however, only spend a portion of their residency in pediatrics and afterward only see young patients about 10 percent of the time, which means they may not have the depth of specialized knowledge about children’s physical, social, and mental health that a pediatrician does. On the plus side, they are certified to provide care across the entire spectrum of the human life, whereas pediatricians are only certified to care for children and teenagers. Most pediatricians stop seeing patients when they are between the ages of 18 and 21, if not before. You are free to switch to a family medicine doctor or general practitioner sooner.

Selecting the Right Pediatrician for Your Child

If you’re preparing for a new child or you’ve recently moved to a new area, it’s time to find a new pediatrician—or potentially family medicine doctor—to provide care for your kid. Here are a few tips for going about that process to ensure you are confident and comfortable with your choice:

1. Get Referrals

If you have friends and family members who live in the area, they may have insight into which pediatricians, or at least which healthcare providers or systems, are reputable. Even if you’re new to town, turn to members of your PTO, colleagues, or other people within your private social networks to get their opinions. Other parents can share their experiences with particular providers, both the good and the bad, and you can use that information to guide you in your search.

2. Do Research

Once you’ve collected a few names from trusted sources, do your own research on them. Many doctors have personal websites and public profiles and are included in online directories managed by WebMD, Healthgrades, and other organizations.  Make sure any prospective pediatricians are taking new patients and accept your health insurance, in addition to considering their office location, hours, and after-hours availability. Also check their credentials, such as whether they’re board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics; their range of experience; how long they’ve been in practice; and if they’re up to date with current children’s health knowledge and best practices.

3. Conduct an Interview

If you can, set up an interview in person or over the phone before you make your child’s first appointment. This provides you an opportunity to ask important questions and see if you click with a potential provider. Healthcare is such a personal part of life, and even if someone is perfectly qualified and competent, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right fit for you. It’s important you are comfortable with their approach and feel respected. Some questions to ask your pediatrician, either during a designated interview or at least during the first appointment, include:

  • Are their office hours convenient for your schedule, as well as your child’s need to be in school?
  • Is the pediatrician available by phone if you have questions or do they have a nurse who fields calls and answers routine inquiries?
  • Do they practice alone or are they part of a group? If they are sick or out of town, is their another physician who covers or do you need to reschedule?
  • If your child develops a complex illness or acute injury and needs specialized medicine, does the pediatrician help coordinate care? In case of an emergency, what hospital would your child be admitted to?
  • Can you make an appointment on short notice?
  • Does the doctor participate in any managed-care programs?
  • Do they respect your opinion and work to include you in the decision-making process?

Finding out the answers to these and other questions can help you determine whether a certain pediatrician is going to be the best choice you and your child.

Building a Trusted Network

Other parents, including friends and relatives, can often be a great source of information, especially when it comes to referrals and recommendations. Go2s, a private social networking platform that you can use to connect to various community groups, allows you to ask questions of other members. Other features enable you and others to call-out favorite places or services, share recommendations, and find the resources you need.