Breaking up is hard to do

December 09,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The semester is winding down and my days will free up a little for about a week, so I am compiling a long list of appointments I need to make for the kids, and things I need to get done. The list looks something like this so far:

*Flu shots for kids (they'll love that one)

*Schedule dentist appointments for kids (ditto that one)

*Eye exam for L. (he wears glasses, but the school's eye exam tested him as needing a new prescription)

*Look into finding a new pediatrician

That last one has been a long time coming, but breaking up with a pediatrician is hard to do. I have nothing against the practice in general; the doctors have all been easy to work with, and we can always get appointments quickly. The waiting rooms are clean and well organized, and the nurses--the backbone of most doctors' offices--are kind and efficient. I have warm memories of taking L. there when we first moved into the area, and of sitting in the waiting room with a newborn T., nursing her in front of an informational video on childhood diabetes, while I waited for our appointment. You tend to get attached to the doctor who has known one child since he was 15 months old, and the other since she was an infant.

So what's wrong with all this, you might ask? The problem is simple but difficult. We have always had to take the lead with our children's health--researching on our own the things we were/are concerned about and taking the findings to the doctor, pushing the issues, taking the doctor by the hand and leading her to investigate a potential health problem--not the other way around. I think I'm tired of doing all the legwork, of the hours we spend online or in research, tracking down answers to concerns, only to have these concerns finally addressed--months after we raised them. I'm pretty sure that pediatricians are supposed to be the ones who do this type of legwork, not the parents. Back when we were soon-to-be new parents, in the months before L. was born, we talked about the qualities we wanted in a pediatrician. We didn't know much about it, but we both agreed that we didn't want an "alarmist" doctor who would be over-conservative about medicine. Now, though, years later, and with two kids who have their own particular special needs, we definitely have come to realize that when it comes to their health care, conservative is the way to go.

After a series of disappointments with our current doctor, and concerns over how proactive she is (or not, as the case may be), I think we're ready to move on. But it's no simple decision. As I said, we love the practice for many reasons, but it's awkward to switch doctors within the practice--just as awkward as it would be to switch to another hairdresser and to see your old one every time you go to get a hair cut. We're back to the drawing board again, in search of a practice that's close by, clean, with the requisite sick and well sides of the waiting room, with doctors who are nurturing and easy to talk to, but who will also step up and do some of the necessary legwork themselves, and who will take our concerns seriously. I'm not sure we can find all of these things, but we'll give it a good try.

So tell me, readers and parents, what do you look for in a pediatrician? Are you happy with yours? If not, what would you change? What's the single most important quality you look for in the person to whom you entrust your child's healthcare?