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Dr. Andrew Rzepka, a pediatrician at Park Nicollet, has a favorite saying. “I always tell people, ‘Life’s just too short not to love your pediatrician.’”
Agreed. But easier said than done, of course. While there’s no shortage of qualified pediatricians in our great state—there are 951, according to the American Board of Pediatrics—the number of those pediatricians that will also be a perfect fit for your family is far smaller.
“The right care provider is one who values a long-term relationship with the family and child from birth to young adulthood.”
Dr. Christy Sanford, Allina Health East Lake Street Clinic
What’s more, the doc you choose may care for your child until he or she is through high school—sometimes even longer, especially now that all parents’ insurance is required to cover children up to age 26. So what’s a parent to do?
“I look at the first meeting with your pediatrician as a blind date,” Rzepka says. “You look for someone until you click, and then you stay with that person.” A testament to this approach: Rzepka has a parent who brings her kids in to see him once a year—from China.
Beyond the basics of location, scheduling, and insurance, these questions dig deep to help you find the pediatrician that’s right for you and your child.
Ask the Pediatrician
“What are your opinions on (insert issue here)?” From breast vs. bottle-feeding to vaccines to holistic medicine to sleep training, there are so many different views around these and other hot parenting topics. It is essential to find a pediatrician who respects your views, knows the science, and works with you to find solutions that are agreeable all around.
“We want [our patients] to feel as comfortable as possible so we can have an honest conversation and make sure they are taking the best steps to leading as healthy a life as possible.”
Dr. Christine Tompkins, faculty general pediatrician, Hennepin County Medical Center
“What is your definition of a good doctor?” This open-ended question allows you to learn about the pediatrician’s values, work ethic, and personality—stat. Listen for clues that he or she is committed to patients for the long haul.
“The right care provider is one who values a long-term relationship with the family and child from birth to young adulthood,” says Dr. Christy Sanford of Allina Health East Lake Street Clinic.
“Does your clinic take after-hours phone calls?” If you’re a first-time parent (or even if you’re not), you’ll likely have a boatload of questions about your little one’s health, some of which are bound to crop up in the middle of the night. Some clinics offer a nurse advisor system, which allows parents to call clinic nurses for advice 24 hours a day. Ask the pediatrician if the clinic takes after-hours phone calls and, if it doesn’t, how quickly a message left after hours will be returned.
“What makes your practice unique?” Give the pediatrician permission to brag a little, and you’ll get a crash course in why others love it there, as well as the clinic’s values.
“I love to have the opportunity to share with parents that Southdale Pediatric Associates is a privately owned group that has been in business since the 1940s. We have many second- and third-generation patients,” says Dr. Lori Skallerud of Southdale Pediatric Associates, Ltd.
Ask Family and Friends
“What do you like about your clinic?” Find out what your family and friends value most about their pediatric providers. Do they like a clinic because it’s close to their house? Because the doctor specializes in a certain area, like allergies or sleep problems? Because the nurses are super nice? Learn why they love their pediatrician, and you’ll get a feel for whether you could, too.
6 “How easy is it to schedule an appointment?” Does it take weeks and weeks, or can you call ahead in the morning and be seen in the afternoon? When you’re caring for a sick child at home, minutes can seem like hours, making same-day appointments a big, anxiety-saving benefit.
Equally important is the pediatrician’s ability to prioritize appointments based on the acuity of the problem. Many times, calling the clinic and discussing the problem with a nurse will help you determine if and when an appointment is necessary, or if at-home care is sufficient.
“How would you describe the pediatrician’s personality and communication style?” A pediatrician’s compatibility with both you and your child is key. You may enjoy a pediatrician’s more directive, authoritative style or you may prefer a more collaborative approach. If you are choosing a pediatrician for an older child, make sure the pediatrician’s personality and communication style click with your child as well as with you.
“We want [our patients] to feel as comfortable as possible so we can have an honest conversation and make sure they are taking the best steps to leading as healthy a life as possible,” explains Dr. Christine Tompkins, a faculty general pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center.