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Should my child see a family doctor or pediatrician?

The question: We've recently moved to a new city and can't find a pediatrician in our neighbourhood. Should we settle on a family doctor for our four-year-old girl, or should we make an extra effort to find someone who specializes in children's health?

The answer: If I can assume that your daughter is generally in good health, then I would suggest that you find a family physician close by. While it is true that in larger cities you can find pediatricians who will do well-child visits (what we call "primary care"), in most areas of the country it is family physicians who perform these duties.

Primary care of children includes, amongst other things, well-baby and well-child visits, vaccinations and flu shots, care of common illnesses including colds, fevers, ear aches, rashes, and other common symptoms and complaints.

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Family physicians are well-trained in the care of children and should be able to look after most of your child's needs. This frees up pediatricians like me to look after children with more serious, complicated or chronic health problems such as epilepsy, autism, asthma, school and behaviour concerns, leukemia and arthritis.

You can expect your family physician to be familiar with the nearest pediatricians and will know how to access pediatric services when needed. Whether you are looking for a family physician or pediatrician, word of mouth references can be very helpful. Your local hospital or health authority may also be able to direct you to physicians who are accepting new patients.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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