Meet the Inspiring Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Georgia

Dr. Terri McFadden Incorporates Childhood Literacy Into Every Facet of Her Life

Dr. Terri McFaddenWe want to introduce you to one of the most important members of the Reach Out and Read Georgia family.

Dr. Terri McFadden is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine and Medical Director of Primary Care at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding. We are lucky to have Dr. McFadden as Reach Out and Read Georgia's medical director. In addition to her expertise and insight, Dr. McFadden has extensive knowledge and unflagging passion for the organization's mission, born before the official Georgia chapter of Reach Out and Read even existed.

Insiders call her "the godmother of Reach Out and Read Georgia." Dr. McFadden recalls hearing about Reach Out and Read and doing her own "needs assessment" within her practice early on, piloting a program just a few days a week and experimenting with just a few parents. Parents reported back that their children enjoyed reading more after receiving books at the clinic.

When the national organization coalesced, Dr. McFadden says she and her colleagues were excited to become a part of it.

Today, Dr. McFadden's commitment to her patients honors the fact that all families want the same thing, "for their children to succeed and do well in school, to do better than their parents have done." Upon reflection, Dr. McFadden reflects, "Sometimes they don't have the skills to make that happen for their kids. Reach Out and Read is the first step for families to take control of their family's future."

Dr. McFadden's practice serves a population in which 85% of her patients rely on Medicaid and 10% are uninsured. "We really believe," Dr. McFadden says, "that education is the biggest predictor of health. Reading, just like anything else is another important developmental milestone."

Dr. McFadden believes it's part of her professional responsibility to counsel parents on the importance of reading.

"It's clearly the purview of pediatricians. The pediatrician's office is one of the few constants in these families' lives. Parents may have heard they need to 'talk to their babies,' but they don't always understand what that means. When I hand them a book, I can demonstrate how I interact with the child while reading."

"We inundate families with information, but what we really should be doing is helping them acquire skills -- not just telling them what to do." Reach Out and Read helps Dr. McFadden and others put the mandate "Talk to your baby" in context by providing guidance and examples.

Dr. McFadden's practice has a number of success stories that have come out of the Reach Out and Read Georgia program. She recalls one young man who graduated from high school, received a Posse Scholarship to Texas A&M, received a Bill Gates Scholarship and met President Obama.

Another favorite story is of a young man who has now graduated from high school. Dr. McFadden remembers walking into the exam room for his 4-year-old check-up to find him actually reading to his mom, sounding out letters. Dr. McFadden expressed her amazement and the patient's mother said, "It's because of all the books you've been giving him since he was born."

"It makes us feel so good about the work that you're doing. Reading is the gateway to opportunity. If kids don't learn to read their futures are really bleak."

And, for Dr. McFadden, it's not just about teaching kids to read. It begins before that with language. Dr. McFadden clarifies, "Language is really the root. You have to have language before you can have reading. Implementing Reach Out and Read improves expressive and receptive language in children. And language skills are the foundation to build the skill of reading." It all starts with parents who read to their children starting at birth, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When asked why this program is so important to her personally, Dr. McFadden says, "As the mother of two daughters who are now in their teens, being a part of this program influences the way I approach them. It also spills over into others in your circle. It's been gratifying to know that I hopefully had a hand in the academic success of some of my patients and also people in my life. Whenever I go to a baby shower, I always like to bring the baby's first books."

"When you focus on literacy you are preventing disease and promoting wellness. It changes the way we work with children and families. We are helping families create their own legacies."

When asked what her biggest hope is for ROR GA, Dr. McFadden says, "We have been really blessed to have Amy Erickson come on board as our Executive Director. Reach Out and Read Georgia has become a household word among the philanthropic community in Georgia. But, what we really want is a Reach Out and Read program at every pediatric office across the state."

In addition to her clinical work and her position at Reach Out and Read Georgia, Dr. Terri McFadden is on the executive committee of the AAP Council of Early Childhood, which focuses on early childhood with a specific focus on brain development. And, she's on the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, which looks to make sure that communities have access to doctors, which, she notes, is connected to literacy, because young children with access to books and education are more likely to become professionals -- including doctors -- that serve in-need communities, themselves.

Contact Reach Out and Read
Reach Out and Read National Center
89 South St, Suite 201
Boston, MA 02111