Summer is checkup season for pediatricians. With the weather milder and school out, fewer kids get sick in the summer, allowing us to really concentrate on our practice of preventative pediatrics. For me, this is my favorite time of the year to work in the office. It’s great to see what’s happened with a child in the past year — to see how big they’ve grown, how mature they’ve gotten, how they’ve done at school, with sports and activities, and at home — and to explore what kids and their families are looking forward to in the coming year. Relationships with children and their families are established and strengthened during these annual well checkups, and it’s these relationships that, at least for me, make being a pediatrician most rewarding and so much fun.
But summer can also be a frustrating time for a practicing pediatrician. I often tell the medical students and pediatric residents I teach that the biggest stress of this job (for me, anyway) is keeping up with my daily appointment schedule. When I run behind schedule I truly understand and respect how hard that is — for you! Yet each of these annual checkups are time-consuming and would be even if I jettisoned my habit of sitting down and chatting about “stuff” with you and your kids for a bit. Scheduling your child’s checkup for a convenient time in your schedule, with the physician you and your child prefer to see is hard enough; waiting for that doctor to appear in the doorway to get the well-visit underway must be a relief, especially if the exam room is shared by young, inquisitive, active, and perhaps impatient (hungry?) siblings! So these summer checkups can also be frustrating for parents.
For young children, the annual checkup is something most kids have been looking forward to. Often, parents will prepare their school-age children for the visit well before the appointed date. A child’s anticipation of a well-visit is real and palpable when I (finally) walk through the door and it’s really important to me to make sure I don’t rush through the appointment for fear of disappointing the child and the parent. But mostly the child! I recognize that your child probably talked about the checkup before the actual visit and will recount the details of the visit (mentally and verbally) afterwards. Making sure the experience is a positive one is paramount to a pediatrician (even when painful vaccines have to be given!).
Tweens and teens know the drill for their visits: “Will the doctor ask me about school?” (Most definitely.) “Will he ask me about my activities or sports” (you bet), “or my diet, sleep, and pooping habits” (uh-huh!)? “Will he ask about whether I’ve tried or use drugs and alcohol and tobacco, or whether I have a boyfriend or girlfriend (and whether I’m sexually active)?” (You can count on it, though we may ask your mom and dad to leave us alone so we can talk in private and with confidentiality.) “Does the doctor still have to check me in my private area?” (That depends, but the answer is most likely “yes, we still have to make sure everything is growing and developing normally.”) “Will I get shots today?” (Maybe.)
After all these questions are asked and answered, and after every vital nook-and-cranny is explored, the main things that I, as a pediatrician, need to be able to determine about your child so I can say “goodbye” to you until next year are: “Are you healthy?” and “Are you happy?”
It’s not as easy as it may seem but that’s what we do as objective observers and catalogers of your child’s health and health record. Only when we are confident that we’ve covered those two indicators — health and happiness — will we be ready to say, “Enjoy your summer and see you next year!”