Helping your child bond with a new pediatrician abroad
There are few relationships as important as the one between you, your child, and their pediatrician. Although you hopefully don’t see each other that often, when you do, trust, communication, and comfort are paramount. Becoming acquainted with a new pediatrician can be challenging, especially for young children who may not even remember their doctor that well between visits. Add in the challenges of moving overseas and suddenly cultural, linguistic, and communication differences come into play. No wonder your child might be timid! Here are some helpful tips to help your child bond with their new pediatrician abroad.
Request a parents’ only Meet-and-Greet
Moving to a new country is overwhelming and it’s often tempting to eagerly accept the first medical clinic you find. That’s not a bad idea if you’re flying solo and don’t anticipate many medical visits. But frequent pediatric visits are a fact of life, even when your children are healthy. You want to find the best possible balance between location, hours of operation, medical expertise, style of practice, and personality. These short meet-and-greet appointments should be sufficient to see if you feel comfortable in the clinic and like the doctor. Before you go, don’t forget to find out how your insurance will bill for this type of appointment. If you already have a plan, review the benefits brochure. If you are still looking for a plan review this international insurance comparison page to view the different types of coverage
Ask your child what’s important to them
Chances are your child isn’t the best person to ascertain if their future pediatrician has sufficient expertise in treating children with asthma. But that doesn’t mean they can’t provide valuable input into what they want from a doctor. Even very young children can articulate what their favorite and least favorite things are about their current doctor. Do they love the playroom and colorful artwork on the wall? That’s a clue that you should look for a cheerful clinic with a focus on making kids comfortable. Do they dislike noisy announcements and crowded waiting rooms? That’s a sign that a smaller practice might be best.
Don’t wait until your child is ill to have your first visit
Your new pediatrician may be the kindest person in the world but if your child meets them while in the middle of an invasive throat swab, you can consider the introduction a flop. If possible, arrange for your child’s own short meet and greet or come in for a non-urgent appointment like a wellness visit or filling out a school form. Even driving by the building to see the outside can help your child feel familiar. Read “Find a Doctor While Abroad” to get the ball rolling on finding the right fit.
Does the pediatrician abroad speak English?
There is a world of difference between speaking another language conversationally and being able to communicate about medicine and healthcare – especially when you’re worried about your child. If your doctor doesn’t speak English or you have difficulties communicating, don’t be afraid to bring along a local friend or interpreter for the first few visits until you get the hang of things. Your child will appreciate being with a low-stress parent and they can ask the interpreter all kinds of questions, like what do the posters on the wall say or why do the nurses wear different color uniforms.
If you find you are stuck, most international insurance plans provide a customer service number that you can call for an interpreter. This is something that a local insurance company would not necessarily provide.
The private insurance company will also help you to find the most appropriate hospital, clinic or doctor in-network near you, and arrange, wherever possible, to pay them directly (less any deductibles you may have chosen). This will save you the time and hassle of translating the bills, paying for it yourself and submitting claims.
Prepare for workplace changes
Depending on where you go, you may find your new pediatrician’s office to be much more formal or more casual than your previous doctor. In some countries, using the title “doctor” confers much honor and reverence – not using it would be considered rude and disrespectful. In other countries, pediatric clinics are casual. First names are used, the dress is highly relaxed, and toys, stickers, and jokes are the norm. You can help your child prepare for those first few visits by explaining what differences they can expect, and also reassuring them about what will be the same.
Anticipating cultural differences with a doctor’s office abroad
Believe it or not, not all pediatricians talk to children during a child’s appointment. There are many pediatricians who prefer to speak directly to parents, either because it’s the cultural norm or because it’s just more efficient communication-wise. And then there’s the flip side, pediatricians who not only prefer to speak directly with children but also encourage parents to leave the room to give children their privacy. There are pros and cons to both but the important thing is to let your child know that different doctors have different styles and it’s okay if they want to have more privacy or have you remain by their side.
Encourage your child to ask questions
Even a busy clinic has the time for a child to ask a few questions – whether it’s about their health or not. Encourage your child to ask the doctor any lingering questions they might have. While you and the doctor may have a complex conversation about pain management post-tonsillectomy, your child might really need to ask how long their throat will hurt. A child who got a concussion might only trust a doctor who is willing to talk about what their favorite sport is. It’s okay to step in and help conclude conversations if your child goes wildly off-topic.
Get to know the entire team
Nurses, administrators, physiotherapists, and pharmacists may all be part of your doctor’s team. Don’t minimize their importance, both for your family’s health and your child’s comfort. Your child might love the doctor but be terrified of appointments just because they happened to see a physiotherapist working with a very scary set of acupuncture needles one day. You can point out the staff photos on the wall or website to your child and talk about what each person does.
Standing up for your child
Sometimes cultural differences are educational opportunities for you to be open-minded and consider a new opinion or practice style. But in some cases, they may clash with your fundamental values as a family. The medical profession isn’t immune to sexist views about girls’ health, development, and social roles. Nor do all pediatricians pursue ongoing education on the best way to support LGBTQ youth, children struggling with depression, or teenagers suffering from eating disorders. If your child isn’t being supported, respected, and cared for in a way that reflects your values, it’s time to find a new doctor. Let your child know that you support them and that this one particular doctor doesn’t reflect the medical professional as a whole.
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