Your baby is finally here. You have planned and organized for nine months. You have read books and consulted with friends and family to make decisions on myriad facets of parenthood, from car seats to cribs to breast-feeding to diapers. And last but not least, you have interviewed several pediatricians and have found a great match for you and your family.
Many families build great, long-lasting relationships with their pediatricians. He or she is the one who sees your child initially every few months, yearly for well visits and immunizations, and when needed when your child is sick. Between appointments and advice offered over the telephone, your doctor’s office becomes your child’s medical home and its nurses and other staff your extended family.
Flash forward. Your child is a teenager, perhaps already off to college and on the verge of adulthood. Now what? Should someone other than a pediatrician now be taking care of his or her medical needs?
Most pediatricians continue seeing patients until they are young adults, until about 21 years of age. That may seem “old,” but it is recommended that teens continue seeing a pediatrician. Many doctors recommend staying with a pediatrician until a patient finishes college.
There are individual factors to consider, of course.
Young women often begin to see a gynecologist at age 21 for their “well woman” care. However, those younger than 21 may see a gynecologist due to certain health conditions or for contraceptive needs. There are a wide variety of contraceptive methods available, and those choices are best overseen by a gynecologist.
Puberty also may play a role in considering whether to stay with your pediatrician. Some teens are more comfortable with a doctor of the same sex, while others find comfort in seeing the doctor who’s been with them through everything thus far, regardless of whether the doctor is male or female.
It’s a good idea to ask your teen and your pediatrician their thoughts on this.
Also necessary to consider is that some children have special needs, including chronic illnesses that may require your pediatrician to refer them to a specialist.
When the time comes for the big step of your child leaving the pediatrician and “graduating” to an internal medicine doctor (and a gynecologist and other possible specialists) your pediatrician may have recommendations for you. You’ll need to gather your child’s medical records — and you’ll want to pay attention to how your teen feels about the move. Some patients are eager to move on while others need a little nudge.
But now that your child is, or is about to be, an adult with his or her own opinions, he or she can help find these new doctors. That will make things a lot easier than 21 years ago when you chose a pediatrician on your own.