University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
George Bergus, MD, MA
Associate Professor of Family Medicine/Psychiatry
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
You're moving to a new town, and it's time to get organized. Of
all the things on your "to do" list, one that should be at the top is
choosing a new doctor. It may be tempting to simply turn to the
yellow pages of the phone book for names of doctors, "but this is
probably one of the worst ways to select a physician. You need to
consider a number of factors, including their qualifications, their
location, and your personal medical needs," says Dr. George Bergus,
associate professor in family practice at the University of Iowa
College of Medicine.
"Select a physician before you actually need one," Bergus says.
The worst time to search for one is when you're ill. Like going
grocery shopping when you are hungry, you tend to take the first
thing you see, he explains. Instead, before you move, ask your
physician for recommendations of doctors in your new town, especially
if you have active medical problems or young children. If you are
relatively young and healthy, Bergus suggests finding a physician
within three or four months of your move.
"When selecting a doctor, first consider which hospital will be
convenient for you. Since most doctors are associated with a
particular hospital, it's helpful to select a physician who is
associated with the hospital of your choice," Bergus says. Then,
begin searching for a specific physician to meet your needs. Most
hospitals have a physician-finding service to provide you with
information. The county medical society is also a good source of
information on physicians. Next, consider what kind of primary care
physician would best suit your needs. Family doctors,
obstetricians/gynecologists, general internists, and pediatricians
are qualified to provide primary care and can refer patients to
Check the qualifications of each doctor. "You may want to rely on
word-of-mouth recommendations, but it's a good idea to look first at
the objective facts," he says. Check if the doctor is board
certified, by which board and on what date. The county medical
society or the physician's staff should be able to answer these
questions. The certification date can be important because some
doctors are required to be re-examined at specific intervals. Other
sources of information can be the state board of medical examiners
and the newspaper. Discipline of doctors is a part of public record,
and you can find out if a doctor's license has been revoked or
"Once you use these tools to find out about competence, then
word-of-mouth information becomes important," Bergus says. By talking
with others, you can gather information about a particular
physician's manner and personality. "Keep in mind that physicians are
people, too, and choosing a physician is similar to choosing your
friends. Pay attention to your feelings," he adds.
If you're unhappy with your first visit, "be up-front about it.
Tell your physician about your dissatisfaction--perhaps you felt you
didn't receive enough time," Bergus says. If his or her response
indicates that the problem can and will be resolved, consider
remaining with that physician. If you feel the problem can't be
resolved, try another physician on your list.
"People probably won't find perfection, but they can find a
physician with whom to have a good, long-standing relationship,"