When you are choosing a doctor for your children, it can be a real challenge if you do not understand the difference between the different types of doctors. If a particular physician is nice to you or has a nice personality, it does not mean that this person has the qualifications and preparation to take care of the most important people in the world: your children. It’s important to understand the difference between the different types of providers that are allowed to provide care for your children.
The difference between a pediatrician and family doctor
A pediatrician is a doctor who, after finishing medical school (approximately eight to 10 years), goes into training for newborns through adulthood for another three years and specializes in all the different conditions that can affect your child during this crucially important time period. At the end, a pediatrician is the one that has the final say in any condition that is pertinent for children. These are the most knowledgeable professionals in the area of child development and treating conditions which may be affecting your child.
A family doctor is a doctor whose specialty concentrates in preventive care for the whole family. When it comes to children’s conditions, they usually have to refer to pediatricians because their knowledge is limited to the most basic conditions in preventive care. Family doctors go to medical school for eight to 10 years, and they rotate through different areas for another three years, but they do not specialize in or concentrate on pediatrics.
Providers who can assist doctors
A nurse practitioner goes to nursing school for approximately four years and then goes into a nurse practitioner school for approximately two to three years. They acquire a license to see and treat conditions for a patient under the supervision of a doctor. As is the case with a family doctor, when it comes to children’s conditions, they usually have to refer to pediatricians because their knowledge is limited to the most basic conditions. However, a nurse practitioner who specialized in pediatrics is more independent than a physician’s assistant and requires less supervision from a doctor than does a physician’s assistant.
A physician’s assistant does not go to medical school and can never be referred to as a doctor. Instead, they go to a school for physician’s assistants for approximately two years after completing basic college. A PA is trained to assist doctors under direct supervision, and is permitted to see patients with the most common illnesses. A PA should never be responsible for any child’s primary care and cannot be considered a primary care physician. They must use the name of the doctor who is supervising them, and they must be under that doctor’s malpractice insurance. Everything a PA does must be supervised, reviewed, corrected and approved by the supervising doctor. A parent who is uneducated in the difference between the providers, and is using a PA as their primary care physician must know they are actually choosing the doctor that is supervising this PA. The supervising doctor is responsible for any mistakes or misdiagnosed conditions.
What if I choose not to see a pediatrician?
When doctors have a large workload, it benefits them more financially to pay a PA or an NP to see more patients, but the financial responsibility of the patient remains the same. The financial gain of the doctor increases, and unfortunately, the level of care your child receives decreases. When it is difficult to make an appointment to see a doctor, it may have more to do with the hours they are working than the workload they are keeping.
If you are going to any type of doctor and seeing a PA or an NP most of the time, your child is receiving a sub-standard level of care. When you make an appointment at a medical office, always ask which provider your child is going to see. It is acceptable for a doctor to use a PA or an NP after hours when the doctor cannot be there or when the doctor takes an occasional day off or takes a vacation. Otherwise, if your child ends up seeing a PA or NP most of the time, this is indicative of a doctor who is putting financial gain ahead of patient care.
Hospitals that are compliant with the standards of care utilize pediatricians only to do the first newborn assessment. For an expecting mother, make sure the hospital you are planning to deliver your child is compliant with those regulations, and is fully prepared in case of any adverse event. If you feel your child needs hospitalization, you should go to a hospital that has a pediatric unit with a well-trained staff in pediatrics. For example, infections in adults and children are different. They cannot be mixed together. This is a sign that your hospital lacks sufficient resources or does not place proper importance on pediatrics.
Final thoughts when making your choice
Do not allow yourself to be influenced by irrelevant factors, such as advice from individuals who do not have any medical knowledge or are influenced by their personal relationships.
Always take your time in making any decision regarding your child’s care, and always put your child first when making your choice.
C. Marila Taveras began medical school at age 16 and has been in practice for 15 years. She received her training at a Cornell University-affiliated hospital in New York City and was a researcher at Columbia University. She is the supervising pediatrician at Tooele Pediatrics.