There are many reasons that you might be in the market for a pediatric provider. First-time parents may begin looking for a provider during their pregnancy. Later, parents find themselves looking when their existing pediatric provider retires or changes practices, when a new insurance won’t cover an existing provider, or when their growing child decides they prefer one gender over another. No matter the reason, starting a medical relationship can feel daunting.

“Pediatrics” is the medical specialty of caring for patients from birth to 21 years of age, and there are many choices when it comes to finding someone to provide care for your children. You can choose to see a pediatrician (MD or DO), family physician, nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant. Many offices use 18 years as a general cut off, while others extend care until the patient has completed college or transitioned to an adult doctor, but most offices hope to have every patient transitioned out by the time they’re 21.

For many, the first step in finding a pediatrician starts with friends and family. Asking other parents how and why they chose their pediatric provider can help clarify what you want for your children, and a wide range of online resources can point you in the right direction. No matter what you use to make your decision, I encourage you to consider these factors as you proceed:

  • Providers: Where did they receive their training? Are they board certified? What credentials do they hold? How long have they been practicing? What is the provider’s specialty, and do you have  a child that requires that specialization?
  • Office: How many providers are there? What are the office hours and what happens if I have a question after-hours? Does the office run on time? How quickly can I get an appointment or speak with a nurse? Is the office decor welcoming and kid-friendly? Is there an exam room where adolescents feel comfortable?
  • Location: How far away would you need to travel if your child is ill? Is the office closer to daycare, school, or home, and what would make the most sense if you need to leave work for a visit?
  • Insurance: Is this provider included on your health plan, or will you accrue excess charges by seeing them? With which hospital are they affiliated, and does that matter to you?
  • Specialty care: Does the practice have extended providers in the office that could additionally benefit your family—such as lactation support, integrated health specialists, or behavioral health therapists?

Once you’ve settled on what’s most important to you and your child, start your search there. Ask friends if they know of providers that meet your criteria, and then conduct research to determine if it’s a good match. Making appointments to “interview” a variety of providers is also appropriate, but I suggest choosing a small handful so that you don’t overload on information. Be sure to ask your adolescent about what they feel is a good match for them, and then bring them along on the meet-and-greet. Once you’re there, ask yourself: Are they approachable, compassionate, and caring? Do they listen? Are they receptive to my concerns and questions? Do they engage with my child, or speak only to me?
Once you’ve done your homework and met with some providers, go with your gut instinct. Parental intuition is remarkably strong and if you feel a connection, then you are most likely making the right choice for your child.

Elena Bell Wagner, BSN, MSN, CPNP (certified pediatric nurse practitioner), practices at the Portland and Yarmouth locations of the Dr. Harry E. Davis Pediatric Center at Northern Light Mercy Hospital. She received her MSN and BSN from the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, NY.