From Pediatrician to Primary Physician

Finding a doctor is probably the last thing you have in mind while choosing your school and planning your move to college. It may not come up at all until you get sick that first time and start scrambling to find healthcare and figure out all of the paperwork that comes with visiting a new doctor’s office. And let’s face it, no one wants to fill out pages upon pages of paperwork when they don’t feel well.

To help with this transition from your trusted doctor you’ve had all through childhood and high school to a new doctor in a new city, we asked Dr. Peily Soong, a pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama, for his advice!

When do students need to transition to a primary care physician?

Depending on if you are staying local for college or moving to a new location you would likely need to find a new doctor in your area. If you are staying local, you may be able to stay under your pediatrician’s care a little longer than you may think!

Do pediatricians see patients over 18?

This varies by practice, but most pediatricians will actually continue to see patients until they are 21 years of age. However, make sure you ask your pediatrician to be sure because some will stop seeing patients when they reach 18 years of age.

How can I find a primary doctor?

If you are staying local but your current pediatrician stops seeing patients at age 18, you can ask them for recommendations for a primary physician in the area. If you are going out-of-state, Dr. Soong recommends that you stay under your pediatrician but also find a primary care doctor in your new location. Keeping your pediatrician will allow you to still have that doctor that you feel comfortable calling and asking for advice on your symptoms. Also, make sure the primary doctor you choose is covered under your insurance provider.

Will my medical records automatically transfer to the new office?

When transitioning to a new doctor, you will need to transfer your medical records. You will sign off on a medical release form at your current office, and they will fax over or electronically send over your medical records. It can sometimes take months for that to get transitioned over, so make sure you have a copy of vax/immunization records on file.

What do I need to bring to my first appointment?

You will need your health insurance card, Driver’s License, any past medical records, immunization records, a list of current medications, and your co-pay. Since you are a new patient, you will have to fill out paperwork about your past medical history and provide your up-to-date information. So, before arriving at your first appointment, make sure you know about any allergies, past hospitalizations, ongoing diagnoses, etc.

What questions should I make sure to ask at my new office?

  • What are your office hours?
  • Do you accept walk-ins or are you appointment only?
  • How far in advance do I need to set my appointments?
  • Do you do regular physical visits and primary check-ups?


Help Your Student Prepare for this Transition:

  1. Remind them to bring their insurance card, form of ID, and co-pay.
  2. Before your child leaves for college, have your student practice talking about their symptoms and talking to the doctor before you start to explain for them. Have your child talk first and get them used to explaining and talking to doctors, nurses, and medical staff. After they have answered the doctor’s questions on their own, you can help add in the medical history if they need assistance.
  3. Talk through their immediate family medical history and make sure they know what current medications they are taking and any previous diagnoses. You want your child to be comfortable explaining their health history and current symptoms to the doctor. A lot of diagnoses begin with the patient’s history.
  4. Watch out for who is covered under your insurance network and make sure your student has found a doctor in the network—especially out of state.


Prepare for this Transition:

  1. Practice setting your own appointments before you go off to college. When making your first appointment, make sure you are prepared with your insurance and personal information in hand when you call, as the doctor’s office will need it to set the appointment.
  2. Get your parents’ help with deciding where you should go to the doctor based on location, quality, etc. After you’ve picked a location, make sure you call and set your own appointment.
  3. If you are away from home and get sick: You can always call your previous or current primary care doctor, and they can advise you on where to go—urgent care, call a telehealth specialist, or if it’s more serious and requires immediate medical attention.

NOTE: The basic cold symptoms don’t require a call to your pediatrician but something more complicated might.


For students with chronic conditions, transitioning to an adult doctor may not be your best option. If you have any chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy or are under a specialty doctor, there is a team of doctors called Med Peds doctors that see both kids and adults. These doctors are a great option for chronic condition patients because they know what to worry about for both adults and kids so the student doesn’t have to transition.

The specifics for these doctors vary. Some Med Peds doctors have their own practice and some are at a regular family practice setting. Some specialize in internal medicine or special conditions. Do some research to find a Med Peds doctor in your area. If there are none, Dr. Soong recommends that you seek out an internal medicine doctor rather than a generic family doctor.

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