The “Believe in Books” Interview Series: Dr. Amy Woolever

By amandaberlin on April 18, 2016 in Blog, Uncategorized

Woolever, AmyWe are so excited to announce that Dr. Amy Woolever, the medical director of Reach Out and Read at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst will be honored at our 2016 Benefit and Auction as our Literacy Champion.  Dr. Woolever was first exposed to Reach Out and Read during her residency at Montefiore and it quickly became her favorite part of health care maintenance visits. After joining the faculty at Elmhurst, she introduced the ROR model to the Primary Care Clinic.  Last year, Elmhurst’s Reach Out and Read program distributed books and literacy guidance at more than 7,000 visits!

We had an opportunity to talk to Dr. Woolever and invite her to participate in our “Believe in Books” interview series. But, first, here’s what we learned about how important the Reach Out and Read model is to her practice.

What makes ROR GNY among your favorite parts of the well visit?

The program make visits more enjoyable especially for pre-school children. They have a lot of anxiety going to the doctor, associated with vaccines or blood draws. Having a book as a tangible thing to give to them is really nice. I can use the book to open up a conversation about development and about ways that parents can stimulate their children from an early age. I can also use it to judge how the child is doing, if they grab the book, if they turn the pages, I can gauge their developmental progress. 

Our patient community is almost 100% immigrant. Sometimes I’m working with parents who have limited literacy. I’m able to tell them that they don’t have to read the words on the page, they can make up their own story. And, siblings can be enlisted in to read to the youngest.

Many of those parents did not grow up in a household with a strong reading tradition, or with a lot of books. For most of our families, giving a child a book and telling them to read at six months comes out of left field. Reach Out and Read is a great way to introduce the concept of early childhood literacy to families who haven’t previously been exposed to it. Sick visits are also great opportunity — when children don’t get a new book — to talk about the library, and benefits of socialization and reading. Reach Out and Read opens up the conversation for things we need to talk about anyway, in a more organic process.

Can you describe a particular success story from your work with ROR GNY that has stuck with you?

I was pretty excited when we went to a home visit for a 9-month-old patient followed in our clinic and the family had all the ROR books (and a few others) on their own book shelf at home.  It was nice to see the books having an important place in the house!

Reading never seems to lose importance. To that end, you’ve initiated a reading club with your residents, can you talk about that?

This is one of my favorite things outside the scope of my regular education. During my hour+ commute from Brooklyn to Queens, I always read, medical journals, book club book, and so forth. An article I read, particularly stuck with me. It was About a Boy” by Margaret Talbot for The New Yorker about a transgender teenager. 

Elmhurst residents are international medical grads from Philippines, Egypt, Israel, India and beyond. They came from countries where the concept of transgender is something they would probably not talk about in the medical community. I thought, “What better way to bring this up than have them read this article?” That’s where the reading club was born. 

It’s a freeform discussion with other related professionals around the medical and emotional implications of the issue at hand. We read an article in The New York Times about a homeless teen in Brooklyn, which lead to a discussion on “toxic stress.”

We read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about an immigrant child with severe epilepsy and the clash between tradition and medicine.

We read studies that lead up to explore ethics questions and racial biases. When I read material and I find it really engaging, I think that’s an easy way to engage other people.

Which books are among your childhood favorites?

Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
Ramona series  (Beverly Cleary)
The Clown of God (Tomie De Paola)
The Yearling (Marjorie Rawlings)

What are your favorite titles of today?
Americanah (Chinamanda N. Adichie)
Someone (Alice McDermott)
The Book of Unknown Americans (Cristina Henriquez)


What’s your favorite childhood reading memory — whether of reading to yourself, or of someone who read to you, or something you imagined? 

When I could go to the library by myself!
Also my dad reading to us before bed every night.

What was your biggest idea or inspiration that came from reading?

While in college I was leafing though a directory of Catholic volunteer programs  I read a description for medical volunteers to work internationally.  It clicked that medical knowledge would be a useful skill to be able to share.  And that set me on the road to medical school!

What is your favorite word?

If you were going to be anything other than what you are today, professionally, what would you be?
Urban Planner or Sportscaster.

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