How to Pick a Doctor for Your Children

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Why Our Medical Care is Awesome

Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos

When I was pregnant, I made a list of pediatricians in my area that took our insurance, did some research into them, and ordered them by preference. I then began to schedule appointments to meet with them. The first doctor I interviewed, Dr. Pickens at Chisholm Trail Pediatrics, was just perfect and I didn’t bother scheduling any additional interviews.

This was on May 9, 2006. I wasn’t due until the end of June. I patted myself on the back for being so proactive. Yes, I see you smiling knowingly. You’re right. I went into labour about 12 hours later. I was back at the pediatrician’s office with the babies for their first appointment 3 weeks after that initial introduction.

Seven years later, our pediatric practice has lived up to my expectations and more. I’ve known that my children’s health is in the best of hands, of course, but I’ve also come to realize that medical professionals can play a role in my kids’ emotional growth and my own growth as a mother. Dr. Pickens was the one who taught me not to compare my children to anyone else or each other as they developed. He pointed out that I was petite, and there was no reason to expect my children to be average. As long as their growth curves mirrored the shape of the standard growth curve, I needn’t worry about where they were (waaaaay below) in comparison. This attitude–my kids aren’t average and I don’t want them to be–has become a cornerstone of my parenting philosophy. When she was just 3, Susan taught M that she could and should speak for herself.

When I called the office, embarrassed, asking for an appointment to check for an ear infection despite M having no discernible symptoms, I was told, “Come on in today. We’ll squeeze you in. Moms just know.” M did have an ear infection. When I told Dr. Pickens that I was at the end of my rope with how long M took to eat her meals, he didn’t tell me to suck it up. Instead, he referred her to a speech therapist. She ended up benefitting immensely from feeding therapy. When J persisted in needing a nebulizer for years after her bout of RSV, the doctors avoided labeling her as asthmatic despite her need for asthma meds, predicting that her lungs would eventually outgrow the burden of that label. They did.

Linda has been tireless in pursuing referrals and dealing with insurance. My daughters’ military coverage is wonderful in that we have to pay very little for the best care, but the insurance paperwork is a nightmare and we’ve been lost in the system many a time. I’ve rarely had to step in, and only then when the company refuses to work with Linda. I’m so grateful not have to constantly battle insurance, instead focusing on raising my girls.

My favourite example of how well we’ve been treated by Chisholm Trail is this: After we’d been living in El Paso for nearly a year, I called them to see whether we could reestablish them as my daughters’ primary care provider after we completed my post-divorce move back to Central Texas. I introduced myself and didn’t even have to mention the girls’ names before Liz said, “Their birthday is coming up, isn’t it? Let’s get you scheduled for their annual checkup.” Not only did she know who I was and who my kids were, she knew their birthday. After a year of being unable to secure medical care for my children at Fort Bliss, I cried with relief at the prospect of coming home to “my” doctors.

My Advice on Finding Your Perfect Medical Provider

  • Start early. Start researching doctors when you’re ready to tell people that you’re pregnant . You’ll have plenty of other things to worry about as your due date draws nearer.
  • Start with your insurance company (assuming you’re in the US) to get a list of options in your area. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect doctor, only to discover that you can’t afford to see them.
  • Decide what sort of doctor you want. It was important to me to be at a practice that specialized in children, although I was equally happy with a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physicians’ assistant. Perhaps a family practice is a better fit for you, so you can see a single professional who knows the medical history of everyone in your family, adults and children alike. If at all possible, I do recommend going somewhere where you can choose to see the same person over time. Reading your child’s chart simply does not give a doctor or other professional the entire context of your child’s life to give complete and meaningful advice or diagnoses.
  • Find out how long the practice has been around. I’m all for supporting new businesses, but I don’t want my children to be the guinea pigs that deal with the growing pains of a new place. Our practice was started by a doctor who now sees his old patients’ kids!
  • Do your research. Ask other parents in the area for their recommendations and impressions. Look at online reviews, bearing in mind that people who bother going online are generally ones with negative experiences, so positive reviews may be underrepresented. Consider joining Angie’s List, especially if you haven’t yet connected with other parents in your area. Look at the practice’s website, but don’t ding them if they’re not internet-savvy unless that’s an important trait for you. My obstetrician was the one who recommended our doctors to me.
  • Schedule an interview. If the practice is too busy to take the time to woo you as a client, they’re probably too busy to manage your children’s care. Is the waiting room clean enough? Are the kids happy and occupied? Is the staff friendly with the other parents? Are you seen on schedule or made to wait?
  • Find out how the practice manages relationships with specialists. Ideally, of course, your child will never need to see a specialist, but if he or she does, you will want a medical professional who is willing to advocate for your family and stay on top of things. In my daughters’ relatively healthy lives, we’ve seen a geneticist, speech therapists, a pediatric cardiologist, a craniofacial surgeon, multiple ER docs, a dermatologist, and pediatric ophthalmologists. Oh, and the nurse who gave the girls their RSV shots.
  • Come up with your own list of questions. If you hear an answer you don’t like or don’t get a straight answer, move on to the next option. You’re going to be putting your child’s health in the hands of these people. For me, it was important that the doctors respect the girls’ dad’s role in decision-making, even though he would frequently be away on deployments. It was also important that my children be seen as people, not just medical cases. You couldn’t beat the pride I saw in our nurse practitioner Susan’s eyes when J read to her at age 3.
  • If you’re expecting multiples, there’s a chance you’ll be dealing with prematurity. Find out about the practice’s experience with preemies. Having doctors who weren’t afraid of my daughters’ tininess was huge in those first days. They knew when to go with their corrected age and when to consider the girls’ birth age. I was surprised by how many of the girls’ specialists didn’t know a thing about accounting for or dealing with prematurity.
  • If you are (or may be) having identical multiples, especially, feel out whether the staff will treat your children as individuals. It’s been a comfort to know that our doctors’ office is one place where my girls will always be seen as distinct people. I’ve been sad to experience some medical professionals (NEVER at Chisholm Trail) who see nothing wrong with misfiling medical information in the wrong twin’s records! Having children with the same last name and same birthdate confounds some practices’ record-keeping. Just steer clear of contending with that issue as much as you can.
  • Find out their office policy for appointments for multiple children. Some practices won’t let siblings’ appointments be scheduled back-to-back. That was a deal-breaker for me. I was not going to come in twice for shots.
  • Find out how the practice deals with after-hours medical needs. Our doctors partner with a local hospital’s call center, so we always have a medical professional available to us. If called for, the nurse on the other end of the phone call will page our doctor … and did, often, that first year, sometimes recommending that we leave immediately for the hospital. They also called ahead so that the ER knew we were on our way and had a legitimate medical need, which bumped us to the front of the line.

We don’t always have a choice in who sees to our kids’ medical needs. When we were living in El Paso, we lived close enough to the army base that we had to go to the base clinic since our medical coverage was provided by the military. This amounted to our having no medical care at all. They were so overbooked with soldiers home from Iraq that they just couldn’t get us in. If you can, though, I can’t stress enough how much a good medical practice can do to make your parenting life easier.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at and Multicultural Mothering.

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Inoculation Time Made Easier

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I have discovered the parenting equivalent of the New World. Our daughters got flu shots recently, and neither kids nor mom walked away from the experience in abject terror. We didn’t need to resort to blankie time or heavy doses of chocolate.

Sorry, folks. My discovery isn’t one that I could have taken advantage of before now. You’ll need to wait it out too. My repertoire of vaccination-related pain minimization strategies is the usual, the list your doctor and other parents told you about in preparation for your kids’ first well baby visit:

  • Don’t schedule your appointments anywhere near nap time.
  • Give your child Tylenol, or whatever the safest kid-approved pain reliever and fever reducer is where you live, 30 minutes before your appointment. This minimizes pain and the chance of a fever over the next day or so.
  • If your child is old enough, promise a treat after the visit, and follow through on your promise. Give yourself a nice big reward too.
  • If your child has a lovey, a toy or blanket–my sister had a washcloth–bring it with you.
  • Use  all your limbs and available personnel to hold your children down during the act of vaccination.
  • Ask your medical service provider what formulations they have available to minimize the number of pricks your children must endure. A lot of vaccines now come packaged in a single vial.
  • Seriously consider investing in earplugs for yourself.

The new information I have to offer is the observation that inoculation is crazy easy at age 5. This year, we walked into the clinic, and I filled out the requisite paperwork while the girls read Alice in Wonderland. When they started to express some concern, I told them that the flu shot would hurt, but only for a second. It would feel like a brief bug bite. I illustrated by quickly tapping their skin with my nail. When we saw the nurse, the girls clambered onto the examination table in turn, selected a band-aid, got her shot, said “That didn’t hurt so much,” picked a sticker, and jumped down. No tears. No flailing. No new bruises for me from trying to hold them still.

I’m usually the very first in line to get my girls their shots. Having grown up in a developing country and being allergic to the eggs in which many vaccines are grown, I am all too painfully aware of the risks of foregoing vaccination. This year, however, navigating the medical system in our new town has been fraught with challenges. It has taken me until just recently to figure out when and where to take J and M for their flu shots.

My husband has been deployed during all but two flu seasons since our daughters were born. In addition to the regular vaccines pediatricians recommend for all children, the girls got monthly RSV shots for 7 months in a row as infants. I consider myself well-versed in the ways of solo parent/double child vaccination.

I’d hold both children in my lap, one on each knee, and thank my lucky stars that my children did not outnumber my knees. The nurse would make small talk, but as soon as she reached for the syringe and vials, the thrashing, kicking and screaming would start. M suffers from more anxiety than J, but it never mattered who went first.  M would scream in anticipation as soon as we reached the exam room, and J would sob in sympathy. I would set the phrase “This too shall pass” on repeat in my head. The tragic response would last until the girls cried themselves asleep or, once they were old enough to appreciate them, they could select stickers at the front desk of the office.

Sound familiar? It did eventually pass, after all.

Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old daughters moved to El Paso by order of Uncle Sam last year, after having done all their child-rearing in the Austin area before that.

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