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What to Expect From a Pediatrician : Questions Most Frequently Asked by Prospective Parents


Breast-feeding and other nutritional matters, immunizations, circumcision and use of antibiotics are among the most common concerns of prospective parents, according to pediatricians interviewed. But there are other concerns too.

"They ask when I start solid feeding, how early they can travel and what I think about certain books," Dr. Clifford Rubin, a Beverly Hills pediatrician, said.

They also ask about the handling of emergencies, office coverage when the pediatrician is not available, fees, waiting-room time, telephone "calling hours" for minor problems and which hospital staff or staffs the pediatrician is on.

Pam Bakkedahl, 37, and her husband, Ron, 36, of North Hollywood, asked pediatricians they interviewed if there were separate examination rooms for well babies and sick babies.

Rob and Jan Hedden of Studio City, both 33, visited two pediatric groups, asking all the typical questions.

"We also checked out what the places looked like," Rob said. "We wanted to see if the people were friendly. If your kids are going to go there, you don't want them to get scared."

Some parents check out parking accommodations and the availability of an on-site pharmacy.

But many overlook important questions, according to Encino pediatrician Dr. William Singer. Among them:

"How many years of experience do you have?" "What kind of experience?" "What has your training been?"

How Many Patients Seen?

Understanding certification requirements can sometimes be a problem: Board-eligible pediatricians have completed three years of pediatric residency in an accredited program after medical school and are eligible for certification by the American Board of Pediatrics. Board-certified pediatricians are certified after successful completion of oral and written examinations. (About 75% of board-certified pediatricians are elected by their peers as fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

Parents should also ask how many patients a pediatrician sees during a typical day, Singer said.

"If he's seeing 60 patients, you know he's got to be giving about seven minutes to each patient. Either he's very efficient or he's cutting everyone short." Ideally, Singer believes, a pediatrician should devote at least 10 to 20 minutes to a patient.

Asking a doctor if he teaches medical students is another good idea, Dr. Kenneth Keer, a Tarzana pediatrician, suggested. "The best way to stay current academically is by teaching," said Keer, who teaches at UCLA. "The residents keep you honest."

Once parents-to-be are comfortable with the pediatrician's credentials and philosophy, they should decide if their personalities "click," experts say.

"The difference between pediatricians is not so much their training but their affability and availability," Keer said.

Carol Ozanich puts it to her Lamaze students this way: "Is he (or she) someone you would feel comfortable calling at 10 o'clock at night?"

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