baby dressed as a doctor playing with a teddy bear
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.
“Does this pediatrician answer my questions?” The doctor’s office is a busy place, and appointment times can lag behind schedule if a child needs extra time and care for something unexpected. However, your provider should always take the time to listen and respond to all of your questions and concerns.
“We all hate making patients wait,” says Dr. Leonard Snellman of HealthPartners White Bear Lake Clinic. “However, if a patient is willing to wait to see me, I have to be committed to spending the time that they need and deserve.”
“That the provider is a good listener should be at the top of the skills list,” adds Dr. Paula Kelly of HealthEast Woodbury Clinic.
Trips to the doctor can be scary for children, but a cheerful and comfortable office environment can help. Do the nurses and receptionists welcome both you and your child with a smile?
“Is the environment welcoming for children?” Trips to the doctor can be scary for children, but a cheerful and comfortable office environment can help. Does the clinic have kid-friendly décor and toys or books for children to enjoy while they wait? Are there separate sick and well waiting areas to minimize the spread of contagious illnesses? Do the nurses and receptionists welcome both you and your child with a smile? Children are keenly observant, and these small kindnesses can make all the difference in their experience.
“How were my interactions with other clinic staff?” Skallerud says it’s important to remember that you are not only choosing a pediatrician, you are also choosing a pediatric practice. After your initial visit, consider your experiences with the clinic’s receptionists, nurses, and other staff. Were they efficient, friendly, and helpful?
“What is my gut feeling about this pediatrician?” Ultimately, trust and respect form the foundation of a good family-provider match. But these values develop over time. To quickly gauge whether a provider is a good match for your family, consider how you felt both during and after your initial visit.
“Do they talk with you or do they talk to you? Are they willing to listen to your concerns or do they dismiss them? Most of the time, you will know you have made the right choice if you leave appointments feeling supported and having a plan for going forward,” Snellman says.
When to Switch
Local pediatricians weigh in on the right time to search for a different pediatric care provider.
“If you do not feel that a physician is taking the time to listen to your concerns or address them seriously.”
Dr. Lori Skallerud, Southdale Pediatric Associates, Ltd.“
“When you or your child feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive issues, or if you feel like your communication styles do not match.”
Dr. Pamela Gigi Chawla, senior medical director of primary care, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
“If you often leave feeling angry, sad, disrespected, or frustrated.”
Dr. Leonard Snellman, HealthPartners White Bear Lake Clinic; vice chief of staff, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
“Preventive care, development, behavior, safety, nutrition, and social well-being should all be part of the discussion. If your doctor only focuses on their physical wellness, then I’d look elsewhere.”
Dr. Omar Yunis, Fairview Clinics—Burnsville
“If you are never able to see your provider of choice, resulting in no continuity of care.”
Dr. Paula Kelly, HealthEast Woodbury Clinic