The relationship between parents and pediatricians

It’s strange being on the other side for a change. I remember bringing my son to his first doctor’s appointment.  A new mom. No stethoscope around my neck. No patient schedule, replaced instead by the constant grind of breastfeeding.

I knew it was just another routine newborn check for our pediatrician, but every maternal fiber in me believed that my son must be the cutest baby that ever walked through that clinic.  Every thing he did, every coo, every gurgle and smile, every moro reflex …  It was all so incredible to me, as if these were breakthrough accomplishments in the entire history of all babykind.  I was a proud and excited mama.

I like my pediatrician and I value her input and advice.  She’s efficient and knowledgeable.  But I distinctly remember walking away from that first appointment feeling ambivalent simply because she didn’t ask any personal questions to get a sense of who we were as a family.  I didn’t expect this to be a social visit; I didn’t want to be treated any differently because I’m a pediatrician.  But I would expect that knowing the social context of a new patient is an important step to building rapport.

I have always wondered what parents think of me as their pediatrician.  If only I could hear the running commentary of thoughts that goes on in their minds.  Would I laugh?  Would I cry?  Sometimes it’s obvious that a great rapport has been built.  I love it when that happens.  I feel like I am actually being useful.  But sometimes I get these blank expressions.  In some cases, I can blame it on my mediocre Spanish.  But if they speak English…. well….

Some medical schools videotape their students as they meet  and examine “practice” patients.  I wish it was something doctors out in practice could do.  I’m sure I would cringe at some of my habits and body language, intentional or not.  I’m sure it would also inspire me to wear more make-up and actually do something with my hair.

When I listen to people talk about their kids, it sure doesn’t sound like they look to their pediatrician as a resource for parenting advice and support.  Is it because people don’t realize how to maximize the use of their pediatrician?  Or is it because the pediatrician hasn’t conveyed an interest in the broader scope of their child’s development and behavior?

I went into pediatrics because I loved the idea of getting to know families over many years.  I had hoped to play an active role in helping parents bring out the potential of their kids.  Now I wonder if that’s even realistic.  Maybe our current approach to health care, as a system and as a culture, simply doesn’t encourage this kind of relationship between parents and pediatricians anymore.  Perhaps society has become too mobile.  Rarely does anyone stay with one job, let alone one doctor.  The part that troubles me most?  I’m beginning to wonder if being the pediatrician I envisioned is simply not possible when I’m choosing to work only two days a week.  I just can’t be there for these families in the way I had hoped.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Yolanda Wong is a pediatrician who blogs at Well Child Chats.

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