People who know me know that I do not like to rock the boat. I am a people-pleaser, and I avoid conflict at every level. I will suffer through an over-cooked meal at a restaurant rather than send it back to the kitchen. I’m willing to make compromises.
But one thing that I can’t compromise on is the health of my children and the doctor in charge of their well-being.
My child just turned four-years-old, and we are on his fourth pediatrician. I’m here to tell you that if there is something that doesn’t sit right with you about your family doctor, particularly the doctor who cares for your children, it is okay to search for a new doctor. Don’t feel bad about it!
There are three important qualities that I look for in a pediatrician. If our doctor fails to meet one of these specifications at any point, it’s a deal-breaker for me. Maybe I sound a bit snobby, but I think this is one situation in which it is okay to be snobby!
1. Reasonable Wait Time
This is the biggest reason that we left our most recent pediatrician. Every time I scheduled a visit (sick or well — the reason didn’t seem to matter), I knew that we would be in the office for at least two hours. It wasn’t just a one-time fluke, because I realize emergencies happen from time to time. Wait time to see the doctor was consistently 90+ minutes, and that wasn’t counting time spent in the waiting room — that was after the nurse led us to the exam room, took vital signs, and uttered those maddening words, “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Try holding two small children captive in an 8×8 room for 90 minutes and see if you’re not the one needing a doctor by the time he finally arrives!
Let’s be honest; a doctor who consistently keeps patients waiting this long has a problem with over-booking, and you don’t have to put up with that! 90-minute wait times are not normal, and I am happy to say that we have a new pediatrician who never keeps us waiting longer than 20 minutes in that tiny room with no windows.
2. Conservative in Prescribing Medication
This is a tricky topic. We all want our children to feel better when they’re sick, but some doctors are heavy handed with their prescription pads, and taking an antibiotic isn’t always a cure-all. One of our former pediatricians prescribed my firstborn son so many antibiotics (mainly for ear infections) within a period of five months that I began to get concerned. I started asking questions that I could tell made him uncomfortable. How do you know that this is a bacterial infection as opposed to a virus that will simply run its course? How do you know that the fluid in my son’s ear is causing him an infection? Can you run any tests to verify your diagnosis? Will these antibiotics become less effective over time with repeated use? My pediatrician condescendingly chuckled over many of these concerns. Rather than give me straight answers to any of my questions, he smiled and told me that first-time moms tend to worry about everything. I asked him for a referral to an ENT. He told me that if my son continued to have ear infections over the next few months, he would refer me to a specialist.
I went home and found a specialist that was in our network and made an appointment myself. The receptionist sounded surprised when she asked who had referred me, and rather than providing the name of our pediatrician, I simply said “Google,” but she allowed it. I made an appointment for a consultation on ear tube surgery, and I switched pediatricians all in the same day. Our new pediatrician was much more conservative about prescribing medications, and he performed swabs and laboratory tests right there in his office to verify every diagnosis. It’s okay to ask for proof when you doubt a doctor’s diagnosis. Don’t be afraid that you sound snobby.
3. Caring Bedside Manner
This one may sound like the most superficial category of the three, but don’t underestimate how important it is. I reject the notion that some doctors are super important and at the top of their field, so it’s okay for them to act unpleasantly toward their patients. People excuse behavior like this all the time, particularly if they’re seeing some sort of specialist that they’ve been on a long waiting list to see. In a pediatrician, bedside manner is of utmost importance and not just so that the doctor can establish rapport with the parents; your child needs to trust him and feel comfortable around him as well.
It’s not enough to have cute pictures on the walls and coloring books in the waiting room. You need a pediatrician who has a genuine love for children, who engages your child in conversation, and who knows how to explain complex medical terms in a way that everyone in the family can understand. When you feel like your doctor is in a rush to leave the room, is not taking your concerns seriously (see #2), or is in general bored with the entire exchange, it may be time to move on. I stayed with a doctor like this for far too long because he came with high recommendations from people that I trusted and from reviews online. I waited and waited to see what everyone else was seeing in him. Eventually I realized that if I was feeling uncomfortable and anxious every time my child had an appointment with him, then it was time to move on to someone new.
In those moments when you feel stressed out to the max because something is wrong with your child, and you’ve both been awake all night, waiting for the morning when you can finally see the doctor and get some answers, you don’t want to put your trust in someone who you feel in your gut doesn’t care and is just ready to move along to the next patient. You don’t want to see someone who is going to make you wait for two hours in a tiny room with a kid who is crying, uncomfortable, or in pain. You don’t want someone who is going to quickly write you a prescription with hardly any investigation into what your child may be afflicted by.