Riley, age 9, wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Her dream job is working with endangered animals at the zoo.

Whether you’re a new parent or new in town, picking a pediatrician is a top parenting to-do.

For everything from well checks to sudden fevers, your child’s doctor will be an important person in your family’s life for years.

But what do you really need to consider when you make this decision?

Dr. Hannah Renno

That’s where our conversation with Dr. Hannah Renno comes in. Dr. Renno has served as a general pediatrician and breastfeeding specialist for Arkansas Children's Hospital. She recently retired from clinical practice and is now focused on homeschooling her four children. She remains an adjunct assistant professor at UAMS, to continue her goal of mentoring the next generation of pediatricians who are training at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Her insight as a retired practitioner, parent and mentor helped us create a guide for parents on the hunt for a new pediatrician or specialist.

When to start:

"It’s a good idea to begin researching your options by the early third trimester," says Dr. Renno. In fact, parents will want to have their pediatrician selected prior to delivery of a new baby. Start the selection process with a pediatric meet and greet. "This is a great opportunity for you to learn about office logistics, medical policies and the personality of your pediatrician," suggests Dr. Renno.

Certification to seek:

Dr. Renno also suggests seeking a board-certified pediatrician. That means your doctor has completed four years of medical school, three years of pediatric residency training and has passed a rigorous board certification exam. In addition, board-certified pediatricians have to maintain their skills and knowledge base with continuing medical education.

Red flags to watch:

"I would look for a good balance between an efficient clinic (every parent appreciates when the doctor runs on time!) and a pediatrician who takes the time to thoroughly answer all questions and educate," says Dr. Renno. Her suggestion: check in with other parents who use the clinic for their thoughts.

Questions for the clinic:

Dr. Renno outlined several questions to ask about a prospective clinic:

• Who will answer the phone if you have a question in the middle of the night?

• How easy is it to get a same-day appointment if your child is sick?

• What is the policy for paperwork and forms (for schools and camps, for instance)?

• How likely are you to be able to see your preferred pediatrician on a given day?

• What is your policy for late arrivals, and how long do patients typically wait before they are seen?

• If a patient needs lab work or x-rays, how are those needs handled?

Pandemic focus: What policies do you have in place regarding appointments, the waiting room and safety for staff and patients during the pandemic?

Questions for a new doctor:

Whether selecting a pediatrician or a specialist, Dr. Renno encourages parents to get to know the person behind the role. Have a conversation — not an interview — to learn their source of motivation and inspiration. “You will want to find out if they have not just the knowledge and the resources, but the kindness, patience and passion to help you thrive as a family,” says Dr. Renno. Here are six questions to start a helpful conversation:

• What made you fall in love with medicine?

• How old were you when you decided to attend medical school?

• What was the hardest part of training?

• Why did you choose to work with children, and over the years of your practice, what parts of the job do you enjoy the most?

• What aspects of your job do you find the most challenging?

• What do you think makes a good doctor-patient-parent relationship?

Think beyond logistics:

"The single most important factor is that your pediatrician practices evidence-based medicine,” says Dr. Renno. “Ask them not just their standard vaccine schedule, but how they approach conversations with parents who may have heard frightening things in the community and want to come to a reliable source to discuss their questions.”

At the end of the day, the best doctor-patient-parent relationships are built on trust.“[Pediatricians] are well-trained and have your best interest at heart. And your little one will soon become one of the many reasons they are grateful to go to work each day.”

Picking a Specialist

Sometimes your child will have an issue that calls for a specific medical focus. We asked Dr. Renno to walk us through finding the right specialist.

Is there a different process for choosing a specialist?

"Your pediatrician will refer you to a specific location for your specialty appointment. It is possible to request a certain doctor within that practice, if you or your pediatrician has a preference."

How can parents partner with their pediatrician to find the right specialist for their child?

"After hearing about options from your pediatrician, practice websites and personal recommendations from friends can provide insight. Many subspecialists have written or video bios online so you can learn about their clinical and research interests, as well as a bit about their background and personality."

Would you recommend always going with a pediatric specialist?

"Children are not just small adults, so specialized training in pediatrics is always beneficial. Several of the specialties are VERY different between the pediatric and adult world. For instance, pediatric cardiologists treat babies born with heart defects for a lifetime, even after the patient is in their 30s and 40s and beyond! Meanwhile, adult cardiologists typically specialize in heart disease that begins in adulthood. Other specialties have more overlap, and many doctors provide excellent care in both age groups. But pediatric specialists will always be trained to care for kid-specific considerations."

What questions should a parent ask a prospective specialist?

"Look for clinical expertise and a communication style that works well for you. The practice of medicine is both a science and an art, and you want to find someone who is skilled at both."