Sure, painting the nursery and buying the cutest outfit for your little one matters. But choosing the right pediatrician for your family is one of the most important things you can do to prep for your new arrival.
But don’t worry—trust your gut and you’ll find a good fit. “I am certain that there is more than one right pediatrician for you and your baby, so don’t become stressed,” says Marisa E. Rosania, MD, FAAP, of Franklin Pediatrics, Primary Care Partners in Whippany. “I recommend obtaining referrals from trusted neighbors, friends, or relatives. Many pediatricians offer prenatal meetings which can allow you to get a feel for an office. During your visits be certain you feel comfortable. You should leave feeling a sense of trust in your baby’s doctor and a sense of confidence in yourself as a parent.”
Christina Ott, MD, MPH, chief of special needs primary care at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, says it’s important to figure out what matters most to you. “Is it office accessibility and hours? Do you want to focus on a special area, such as breastfeeding or sleep training?” Make sure you find someone who accepts your insurance and has an office that’s nearby. Here’s what else to consider:
CHECK THEIR CERTIFICATIONS
The site healthychildren.org lists board-certified pediatricians, indicated by FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics), after their name. This designation means your pediatrician has earned the highest level of certification in this specialty.
ASK ABOUT COVID SAFETY MEASURES
Most of us have become accustomed to additional protocols for seeing the doctor during COVID. Pediatrician offices are no different and have put many steps in place to keep kids, parents and staff healthy, says Joseph Schwab, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. Ask what to expect, which typically includes checking in from your car, spacing out appointments, going directly to the exam room, enhanced protective gear and cleaning processes.
SCHEDULE A GET-TO-KNOW-YOU VISIT
The only way to know if you’re going to click with a new doctor is to have a meeting—either in person or through a telemedicine appointment. “It’s a good idea to meet before your child arrives, especially if you’re a first-time parent,” says Schwab. “This is a professional but also personal relationship. You need to feel this is someone you can talk to, who explains things in a way you understand, and who listens and takes time with you.” Don’t be shy about discussing what’s important to you so you can get a sense of whether the doctor is a good fit.
FIND OUT ABOUT THEIR WORKFLOW PROCESS
Ask how to contact a provider—by phone or email? Does the doctor handle calls personally or are they triaged through the nurse? What about after-hours visits? How are sick visits handled, and are they generally available same-day? In a large practice, you may be assigned a provider for scheduled visits, but you may see another doctor for sick calls if yours isn’t available. Do they do developmental tests periodically? “You should also ask about how soon after birth your child will be seen,” says Schwab. “Generally, your pediatrician will either come to the hospital, or he or she may see the child within two to three days in the office.”
LEARN ABOUT TELEHEALTH VISITS
In many cases, pediatricians are using telehealth for follow-ups for which your child may not necessarily need to be seen in person, says Ott. Some things, such as a rash or initial screening for COVID, can also be done by telemedicine, but ask about your doctor’s policies.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE FRONT DESK
Not only do you need to trust your provider, but you also need to feel comfortable with the staff, says Ott. Chances are, you’ll often need to call when you’re sleep-deprived and stressed, and you want to get a sense that they’re here to help. Is there a team vibe? Are they excited about their jobs? “In our office, we like to get feedback from our families because this is all part of your child’s care,” says Ott.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
Granted, the process of choosing a doctor is somewhat intuitive, but if you don’t feel comfortable right away, you probably need to keep looking, says Schwab. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of communication styles. Some people prefer doctors who get right to the point, while others prefer a more laid-back approach. There’s no right or wrong, only personal preference.
Don’t be shy about finding a different doctor if you’re not at ease; you need to feel you and your pediatrician are a team. “It’s really a privilege to be in a family’s life and watch kids grow up,” says Ott. “You want to find a doctor who has that enthusiasm and connection to kids.”
For more tips on what to look for and how to choose a NJ pediatrician, go to healthychildren.org.