When your child is referred to a specialist, it can be a daunting experience. You often have to wait weeks (or months) for an appointment and may need to travel a significant distance just to get to the doctor’s office. I’m sure many of you have wondered whether you should even keep the appointment, as your child may be feeling fine by the time the big day arrives. I’m here to help guide you through the process to help you make the most of your appointment.
Specialists differ from primary care providers based upon our level of training and focused clinical practice. For example, in order to become a board certified Allergist/Immunologist, I had to complete an extra two years of fellowship training, during which I did nothing but learn about allergy and immunology. After that, I had to take a special board exam to become certified as a specialist.
So why do we (sometimes) make you drive downtown for your child to be seen? Well, many of us decide to forgo private practice and work at an academic institution so that we can become more involved in research, teaching, and other activities that may not be available out in the community setting. Pediatric hospitals, such as Nationwide Children's Hospital, are used by all sorts of training programs to send their students to gain their only exposure to certain types of pediatric diseases. That’s why you’ll often be asked to meet with a student, resident, or fellow before you even see the specialist. They’re here to learn and we greatly appreciate the opportunity that you give them to do so. I still remember some patients that I cared for as a medical student, and learned a lot from that experience.
What can you expect once the big day arrives? Once you figure out parking and how to get to the right clinic (not always that easy), you’ll be checked in just like your regular doctor’s office. You may receive instructions before your visit about certain medications that should be discontinued so that testing may occur at the time of your visit or they may ask you to have a certain test done that day, before your appointment. If you’re not sure, always call the specialist’s office and ask them directly.
Now here’s the part that my colleagues may not want me to write. Prepare to wait. And wait some more. Believe me, we don’t do it on purpose and we don’t like making you wait. But sometimes we’re running behind as a patient(s) before you may have arrived late or required extra attention. Sometimes we need extra time to go over prior records or discuss your case with the trainee. My advice is to anticipate a long visit and make sure you bring some activities for the little ones so they don’t get too bored or anxious. Here’s a hint: If you can somehow snag the first appointment slot of the morning or afternoon, we’re usually not too far behind!
It is very helpful for us if you bring along any outside records or lab results so we can offer a fully informed opinion. In addition, we may need to perform additional tests to help us with your child’s diagnosis or management. In order to get the most out of your appointment, I encourage you to ask questions. By the time you see a specialist, you’ve been dealing with your child’s ailment for quite a while. The last thing I want to see happen is for this time to go wasted. Performing your own research and talking to your child’s primary care doctor can help with your preparation.
Lastly, while you’re with us, please make sure you discuss all your concerns and understand everything we discuss with you. Don’t be afraid to ask us to repeat ourselves, or for literature that may help explain something in a slightly different way.
Most of us love our jobs and the opportunity we have to use our expertise to help with your child’s health. I hope you find this to be helpful, and more importantly – I hope your visit goes well!
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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