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How to build trust with your child’s doctor

Going to a new doctor can feel like a first date — and a blind date, at that! Building trust and confidence between parents and providers is critical so that everyone can partner together to do the best for your child. But it takes time to establish that relationship. How can you quickly and easily develop trust in your child’s provider?

Know your doctor’s qualifications

First, you can do a little homework by learning about qualifications. One important thing is board certification, and knowing your child’s doctor is board certified in a pediatric specialty or subspecialty can help you know that he or she has the necessary training and skills to take care of your child’s condition.

After graduating from medical school, new doctors must go through a residency training program, during which they are taking care of patients with some supervision by a fully licensed physician. Residency can last from three to seven or more years, depending on the specialty. After residency, doctors are licensed to practice and can become board certified in that specialty by passing a rigorous examination.

A doctor can be licensed but not necessarily board certified. Some physicians will pursue a fellowship — further training that usually consists of another one to four years — to subspecialize. Someone who is board certified in otolaryngology (more commonly known as ear, nose, and throat, or ENT) has completed five years of training in that specialty and can care for many people with ENT problems, including children and adults. Someone who is board certified in pediatric ENT has then done an additional year (sometimes two) of training focusing solely on children with ENT problems, and has additional expertise and skills to care for those patients. You can usually find out your doctor’s board certification by checking his or her website. (If you see the words “board eligible,” it means your doctor has done all the necessary training but has not yet taken the exam, which may only be given every two years.)

You’re looking for a health care provider, not a best friend

Like everyone else, doctors vary according to style. Whether it’s warm vs. reserved, humorous vs. serious, energetic vs. calm, it may not exactly fit yours. Keep in mind that you’re looking for a health care provider, not a best friend, so what’s most important — aside from clinical expertise — is a willingness and ability to communicate in a way that works for you.

Tips for establishing a good partnership

  • If you don’t understand something the doctor says, ask about it. We providers often forget that not everyone speaks medicalese, so we fall into using technical terms and concepts you may not be familiar with. Don’t be shy, or feel that you will look stupid. After all, your doctor probably has the same problem when he goes to get his car or computer fixed!
  • Feel free to ask why a doctor is recommending a particular test or treatment, and to talk about the options. She should be willing to explain her thinking.
  • When there are reasonable options, the doctor should be willing to consider your preferences or your child’s. It doesn’t mean a doctor is always going to do what you want, but it does mean he should treat you as a partner in the decision-making.
  • When a condition is particularly complex or risky or expensive, you may want a second opinion. If you do, tell your provider. She should be open to it, and it’s better than doing it behind her back. She may even be able to recommend someone to refer you to for it.

You and the provider need to be able to be partners. The doctor is an expert in medicine, but you are an expert in your child.