Should Your Child See A Pediatrician Or A Family Doctor? How To Decide.

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When your child is sick you want to ensure that they receive the best possible care but does that really mean that they need to see a pediatrician or can they simply visit a family doctor? Choosing a doctor for your child is one of the many responsibilities that you must undertake as a parent, so who do you pick?

What’s the difference between a pediatrician and a family doctor? 

Family doctors are primary care doctors who have done their medical residency in a number of fields, including pediatrics, this means that they are certified to care for people of any age and gender and have a broader knowledge about a wider number of health conditions. Pediatricians are also primary care doctors however they specialize specifically in children’s health and well being. To become a pediatrician, doctors must spend 4 years in medical school with 3 years of their residency specifically in the field of pediatrics. Then to become board certified they must complete and pass a pediatrics examination, which they must then re-take every 7 years to stay certified. The main difference between pediatricians and family doctors thus being that pediatricians have specialized in children’s health meaning that their knowledge is focused on issues that may arise between birth and the age of 18-21, and family doctors have not specialized in children which means that their knowledge spans across all parts of the life cycle, including in children.

Who should your child see?

Whether your child would be better off visiting a pediatrician or a family doctor will depend on a number of different factors including their age, their health needs, your location and your financial situation. Here are some things to consider below to help you make your mind up. 

Your child’s health needs
For general trips to the doctor, it probably isn’t necessary that your child sees a pediatric specialist. Pediatric specialists usually treat children with complex health needs such as premature babies, or children with cardiac difficulties. 

The convenience of each doctor
As with choosing any doctor, it’s important to consider their location and your ease of access to them. You may feel that your child will get better specialist care with a pediatrician but if they are several miles away from your home location it could be difficult to reach them when your child needs them. Similarly, having everyone in your family registered with one family doctor can be beneficial if you all suffer from the same inevitable illness, and pediatricians may not have access to your families full health records which can make it hard for them to spot health issues in your immediate family. 

Whether your child is scared of the doctor
For some children visiting the doctor can be a very scary time and they need a little extra reassurance. Family doctors see a wide variety of patients and may not be particularly well trained in the art of coercing and reassuring a scared young patient. Pediatric doctors on the other hand deal with children day in and day out, which means they often have toys, games and methods for helping nervous children to feel secure in their environment. 

Your child’s continuing health needs

Pediatricians typically only treat patients until they are between 18 and 21 years old, at which point they are considered an adult. It’s worth considering whether it would be better for your child to see a family doctor who can continue to treat them as they transition into adulthood rather than needing to switch to a different doctor at a certain stage in their development. 

Who your child would rather see
Pediatricians usually have more experience dealing with young children which can help them to communicate with your child on their level, however, as they see young children every day it can also make them harder to relate too for older children who see themselves as adults and would rather receive adult care. Although your decision will determine who your child sees, it’s important to also take into consideration the wishes of your child as it could change their attitude towards treatment. 

Whether your child needs gynecological care
Some pediatric doctors do not offer gynecological services whereas family doctors do. Having gynecological care as an option for your child when visiting your doctor can be particularly helpful, and should be carefully considered if your child is a girl, especially as she begins to go through puberty and may require additional advice.  

Both pediatricians and family doctors come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages and ultimately your decision will come down to which if more suitable for you and your family.