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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Should Your Kids See a Family Physician or a Pediatrician?

By Tanni Haas

An important decision that all parents face is choosing between a family doctor and a pediatrician. How do you decide which type of physician is right for you, since both are qualified to take care of your kids? Let’s look at each in turn.

Pediatricians are primary care physicians who specialize in kids’ physical and mental health. They spend four years in medical school and complete an additional three years of pediatric residency to become pediatricians. A board-certified pediatrician is someone who’s passed the exam of the American Board of Pediatrics. They have to retake that exam every five years to remain certified.

Family doctors are also primary care physicians but, unlike pediatricians, they do their medical residency in multiple areas, including general surgery, emergency medicine, obstetrics, and also pediatrics. This training qualifies them to treat patients of all ages. They become certified by passing the exam of the American Board of Family Medicine and must retake that exam or participate in the Family Medicine Certification Longitudinal Assessment every ten years to stay certified. 

So, how do you choose? Choose a pediatrician if:

You’re looking for specialized care for your kids. Pediatricians are trained to diagnose and treat all kinds of childhood illnesses. For these reasons, pediatricians can take care of your kids all the way from infancy to their teens.

You want a physician with expertise in child development. If you have concerns that your kids may have certain developmental delays, a pediatrician would be a good choice. 

You want a physician who’s good at relating to kids. Pediatricians are experienced at interacting with young people. They can identify symptoms kids have a hard time expressing, and they know how to speak with kids at their level. 

You like a kid-friendly office environment. Pediatricians often have warm and cozy offices that are furnished with kid-size furniture, books, and toys. If your kids are apprehensive around strangers and need a lot of comfort to relax, choose a pediatrician. 

Pediatricians are great, and so are family doctors. Choose a family doctor if:

You like your physician to know your entire family’s medical history. A family doctor knows the medical history of each individual family member and has all the relevant medical records. This is especially useful when certain hereditary conditions or illnesses run in your family. 

You like your physician to be well-rounded. A family doctor is exposed to all kinds of ailments during their years of practice. So, if you like your physician to be able to diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses, a family doctor is well-suited for this role.

You like to have one place to go when someone in your family gets sick. Should two or more of your family members get sick, say with the flu, it’s convenient to have a single place to go together instead of having to drive around town to several medical offices.

You’d like your kids to continue seeing the same physician when they grow up. Unlike a pediatrician who typically stops seeing patients when they turn 18–21, a family doctor will continue to see your kids when they become adults, assuring a continuity of care. 

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.