In search of the perfect pediatrician

By Published On: November 1st, 2011

I set out to find a doctor for my baby-in-waiting […]

I set out to find a doctor for my baby-in-waiting three weeks before my induction date. I was duly equipped with a list of compulsory questions designed to pinpoint the doctor who would be “just right” for my baby and me. But with hundreds of physicians listed in the yellow pages, I needed a lead.

I first turned to my peers at church. Some of these women had six or more children, surely they would know a great doctor. Several of the mothers I spoke to recommended the same doctor, a woman known for being kind, patient and easygoing. I made the appointment.

After a 15-minute commute from my home to the designated location, I was stumped. I had followed the directions to a T, but I saw nothing that resembled a doctor’s office. I called the receptionist and finally found the building with her guidance. The office wasn’t visible from the road … because it was attached to the back of a gas station! I’m afraid I was biased before the interview even began. The doctor was a sweet older woman—I’ll call her Dr. Matronly—who genuinely loved kids and especially liked to talk about her own adult children. She was somewhat disheveled in appearance, a flaw easily overlooked if her conversation style hadn’t matched her façade. There were a few too many instances of “Where was I?” and “What were you saying?” I decided to keep looking.

I next asked my obstetrician for advice. I loved my OB, and he was connected in the medical world, so why not? He wrote down two names for me to look up. The first was part of a larger practice in a trendy part of town. When I called, the receptionist tried to book me for an interview three months after my due date. So Dr. Popular—also known as Dr. Unavailable—was right out. The second doctor’s office was located in an older residential neighborhood. His receptionist was very eager to book me for an appointment, any day or time. Hmm …

I had no problem finding this office, but the interior reminded me of a prison cell: gray painted cinderblock all around with a row of uncomfortable chairs and a couple of dingy toys. I tried not to let my first impression interfere with the interview.

In conversation, the middle-aged male doctor was obviously intelligent but strangely cynical. His small practice worked mostly with Medicaid cases, many non-English-speaking. He asked me how big my baby was projected to be.

“Dr. Smith thinks 7 to 7½ pounds.”

He surveyed my slighter-than-average protrusion and answered sarcastically, “I’ll bet Dr. Smith a beer that baby’s not 7 pounds.” No joke. Dr. Crude also cursed several times throughout the interview. Needless to say, I did not keep in touch with the man, but I was tempted to send him a postcard when my newborn weighed in at 8 pounds, 5 ounces.

At that point, I was a week from my induction date with no pediatrician. I turned to a friend at work with an 18-month-old. She raved about her doctor and the office of the practice. It was simply furnished but clean and close by, she was always able to see the same doctor, and the nursing staff was very friendly and attentive. They even called her the day she came home from the hospital just to check in.

I called the practice, but they couldn’t schedule an appointment on the one day I had free between leaving work and checking into the hospital. Out of options, I drove to the pediatrician’s office just to fill out the forms necessary for the doctor to treat my baby after her birth. (A long shot but at least the amiable receptionist made a good first impression.)

Only days later, after a successful induction, labor, epidural and delivery, it was time to fill in the blank—Pediatrician: ___________________. I took a deep breath and bravely penned the name my colleague had suggested. Would she be available when I needed her? Would she concur with my thoughts on nursing, inoculating and medicating? Would she take my concerns seriously? Would she care about my child and make her health a priority? I could only hope she would surpass the other candidates in organization, availability and compassion.

Three days after my daughter and I left the hospital, we went to visit our selected pediatrician for the first time. Although the office was not luxurious, the nurse who greeted us was friendly and efficient. I waited for our doctor with fingers crossed. Dr. Right appeared with a handshake and a smile. She was kind, intelligent, direct, patient and capable. I was taken. And relieved. My new baby was in good hands, and I suddenly had a trustworthy parenting mentor, someone to subdue my new set of anxieties:

“What are these red bumps?”
“Are you sure this is normal?”
“Is her poop supposed to be this color?”

By Ginny Butler