The doctor is in: How to choose the right pediatrician

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.

By Amy Fenster Brown

I am in love.  He had me at “hello.” While there is no ring on my finger or any legal documents to sign, it is a committed relationship based on trust, respect and open communication, and I hope it stays rock solid for years to come. 

I use the term “in love” even though the relationship is not romantic in nature.  It’s the best way I can describe how my husband and I feel about our kids’ pediatrician. 

Yes, it sounds silly and overly dramatic.  Here is a person who was not in our lives before in any way, but suddenly, once we became parents, Dr. Alan Skoultchi practically became a member of our family.  

First-time parents need guidance, help and suggestions in caring for a newborn.  From feeding and sleeping schedules to the wide world of teething and every sniffle, cough and tummy ache in-between, new parents are filled with questions and doubt. And now that our boys are teenagers, we probably need more advice than ever. 

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A pediatrician you feel comfortable with and can count on is one of the most comforting feelings for all parents.   He or she should be part expert, part counselor and available in times of confusion, desperation or need, even in the middle of the night.

For us, finding the pediatrician of our dreams was pretty darn easy, and it can be for you, too.  This is a time when chatting up a storm with your friends and being nosey and gossipy is a good thing.  Social media makes it super easy to get recommendations, with Facebook parenting groups being a popular place for parents-to-be to crowd-source referrals. It’s also great to ask friends, co-workers and relatives with kids who they use as a pediatrician.  Why do they like their doctor?  What do they like about the office and the people at the front desk?  How difficult is it to make an appointment or get a return phone call when your kid is sick?  

When we were expecting many years ago, one of our friends mentioned interviewing prospects, which can help you ensure the best chance of getting a pediatrician with your same values, philosophies, and qualities you are looking for. 

I “shopped” the same way I do when buying something super pricey or looking to have a major project done in my home – by taking the top two or three names and asking them questions.  Simply call each practice and ask the receptionist if their doctors conduct prospective parent interviews. These interviews can be done over the phone, on platforms like Zoom and in person (more often during non-COVID times, of course).

I took the names suggested and Googled like I’ve never Googled before.  I read the online bios of a few of these highly recommended docs.  Some physician practices have websites and list doctors’ credentials.  (I was also looking to see if anything “weird” popped up from my online search, but it was all clear.)  This helped me narrow down my search even more to the three front-running candidates.  I thought about how great it would have been to set up a forum like the presidential debates. 

Instead I just called the offices and asked to set-up new patient interviews.  One doctor didn’t conduct those interviews, which took him out of the running immediately.  Certainly it is not required for doctors to do these types of interviews, but I really wanted a doctor who wouldn’t make me feel awkward asking a million questions, and not wanting to allow that up front was a turn-off.   

Doctor No. 2 welcomed an interview, and while he was a terrific person, he looked like a bobblehead doll to my husband and that wasn’t going to work for him.  So we made the easy decision to go with the highly recommended pediatrician, Skoultchi.  

Once you get your chat time scheduled, put on your reporter hat on and prepare yourself. Do your homework. Make a list of questions in advance, both basic and specific to your own concerns or family health history. Don’t forget what your first grade teacher said — there is no such thing as a stupid question. 

Both pediatricians my husband and I interviewed were very qualified, smart and matched our search criteria.  Our comfort with Skoultchi and his office staff won in the end, along with other factors such as his location and schedule.  His availability, personality, compassion, accreditation and good support staff were all key decision making factors. And he laughed at all my jokes. He also knows what the kids are talking about these days, which makes him relatable and approachable to them. 

“Not only am I familiar with Mickey Mouse,” says Skoultchi, “but I can carry on a conversation about Pokemon, Minecraft and the latest TikTok moves.” Plus his head didn’t bobble around every time he spoke. Bonus.

You don’t have to call the office to announce they are the winners of your business before your baby is born.  While pediatricians welcome that call and are happy to answer any questions before your bundle of joy arrives, you can also just let the hospital know when you deliver your baby and they will take care of notifying the doctor.

The interview process is to help you make one of the most important decisions you can make as new parents.   Skoultchi says it is not a waste of time at all, for you or for him. 

“I enjoy meeting expectant parents beforehand,” he says. “That way, when I come to see them in the hospital, we already have that connection established.  And if it’s a room full of people, I’ll know which ones are the mom and dad!” 

Now, after 15 years with him, he is still a very important part of our sons’ upbringing.  And that’s just what the good doctor wants.  He says, “I feel like I am a partner in helping parents raise their children and I definitely get that ‘proud parent’ vibe when I see them graduate from the practice.”

I love that guy.

How to choose the right pediatrician: Guide and checklist

Getting started:

  • Get referrals from other parents, your own doctors and social media groups
  • Call pediatric offices to make sure they take your insurance
  • Google candidates’ names and see what you can learn (education, background, etc.)
  • Set up interviews with top two or three choices 

The interview:

  • Make a list of questions in advance
  • Take notes on the answers
  • Get a feel for the doctor – do you “click?”  Are your philosophies similar?  Are you comfortable with this person?

Common questions:

  • What are the office hours and doctor’s hours?
  • Is it difficult to get same-day appointments for sick patients?
  • Who returns your calls and questions — the pediatrician, a nurse or nurse practitioner?
  • How are after-hours calls handled — by your doctor, an on-call doctor or a nurse hotline.
  • Philosophies on antibiotics, immunizations and child rearing.