Waiting for the birth of a baby is an exciting time, and a busy one. Along with considering baby names and buying a crib, choosing the right health care provider should be on your to-do list, too.
When it comes to medical care for kids, there are three types of qualified providers: pediatricians, family physicians, and pediatric nurse practitioners.
PediatriciansPediatrics is the medical specialty fully focused on the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth through adolescence. The primary focus of pediatrics is on preventive health care.
Pediatricians complete 4 years of medical school, followed by 3 years of pediatric residency. To become board certified, a pediatrician must pass a written examination given by the American Board of Pediatrics. To keep current on changes in children's health care, pediatricians must recertify by taking examinations every 7 years. They also must take a certain number of continuing medical education (CME) courses each year to be eligible for license renewal in the state in which they practice.
Some pediatricians have additional training in a subspecialty area such as cardiology, critical care or emergency medicine, or hematology. These specialists usually have 3 years of additional training after their residency to be board certified in their subspecialty.
Family physicians must complete 3 years of residency after medical school. Family medicine residents train in pediatrics and several other areas such as internal medicine, orthopedics, and obstetrics and gynecology. They usually spend several months training in each area. Afterward, they're eligible to take the certifying examination of the American Board of Family Medicine. They're also required to earn CME credits and take periodic recertification exams.
Because they train in many areas, family physicians are qualified to care for patients of all ages. This means your child would be able to see the same doctor from birth through adulthood. It also means that all members of your family can receive their primary care from the same doctor. A family physician will know the medical histories of all family members and may also be more aware of the emotional and social issues within your family.
When seeking a family physician, be sure to ask about age policies — some see only a few kids or don't see children younger than a certain age.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
A pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) has earned a master's degree in nursing and can take medical histories, perform physical examinations on children, make medical diagnoses, write prescriptions, and provide counseling and treatment. Like pediatricians, PNPs may specialize in a particular area, such as neurology or endocrinology. PNPs work closely with doctors in hospitals, clinics, and private practices.
Some parents might hesitate to choose a PNP, possibly worrying that the PNP is less extensively trained in children's health care. These feelings are largely unwarranted. The presence of PNPs in the practice can have many advantages. Parents often find that PNPs spend more time with them than doctors discussing health and child care issues. Plus, if a PNP encounters a more complex medical problem, he or she is trained to consult the doctor.
Still, if you want to see only the doctor or feel the doctor should be consulted after the PNP has seen your child, most practices will honor your request.
Whatever you choose, it is important to feel comfortable, feel respected and find a medical professional with whom you feel you can develop a positive relationship.