How do you choose the right pediatric specialist?


Choosing a qualified pediatrician or family physician is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your child. But if your child has a chronic medical condition, developmental delays or serious injury, you may need a pediatric specialist to be part of their health care team in addition to their primary care doctor.

Pediatric specialists undergo years of additional training

Many pediatric specialists have completed four years in medical school plus a three-year pediatric residency. After that, they choose a specialty and spend an additional two to three years in fellowship training.

Some specialists are not initially trained as pediatricians; instead they obtain residency training in another specialty, followed by child-specific specialty training during their fellowship.

At least 35 pediatric specialties can care for your child

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are 35 pediatric specialties, including:

  • Neonatologists who care for newborns with special needs
  • Pediatric gastroenterologists who treat problems of the digestive system
  • Nephrologists who care for kidneys and the urinary tract
  • Orthopaedic surgeons who treat musculoskeletal concerns
  • Hematologists/oncologists who treat blood disorders and childhood cancers

When you meet with a pediatric specialist, they will review your child’s medical record, including all test results. They will likely conduct their own physical and talk with you about your child’s health concerns. In many cases, they may order additional tests to help them accurately diagnose a condition and plan a treatment approach.

Children’s hospital affiliation is important for pediatric specialists

The decision to involve a pediatric specialist in your child’s health care team may be straightforward, but it can also cause anxiety as you grapple with a potentially serious health concern. Asking your child’s primary care physician for a recommendation is the first step in choosing the pediatric specialist that will serve your family best. You can also talk with other parents or find online support groups to learn about specialists.

Once you’ve identified a list of potential specialists, these questions may help you determine which provider is right for you:

  • What medical school did you attend and where did you receive your specialty training?
  • Are you board-certified (did you take an exam to become certified as a pediatric specialist)?
  • At which hospitals do you have privileges? (This is important in the event your child needs hospitalization.)
  • What awards or recognitions have you or your practice received? Does the hospital where you’re privileged have special commendations?
  • Will you accept and return phone calls? Do you have a physician partner or nurse who can answer questions when you are unavailable?
  • Which specialists cover you on weekends or holidays?
  • What managed care programs do you participate in? Do you process insurance claims on behalf of your patients?

If you need a pediatric specialist, learn more about the divisions and services at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Find a provider by calling 310-825-2631.

U.S. News and World Report recognized the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital for excellence in all pediatric subspecialties in the 2019-20 Best Children’s Hospital rankings.