Helping Doctors Prescribe Reading to Little Patients

Vivien Bazarko
Vivien Bazarko ’17, Project 55 Fellow at Reach Out and Read in New York City, NY.

Vivien Bazarko grew up in New Jersey and is the oldest of three siblings. At Princeton, she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and conducted thesis research on the evolution of sociality in neotropical bees. In addition to studying science, Vivien spent her time on campus writing and performing comedy with Quipfire!, All-Nighter, and the Princeton Triangle Club. She is passionate about working with children and plans to pursue a career in family medicine and early childhood development. In this blog post, Vivien writes about working for Reach Out and Read and assisting in its efforts to fight income inequality by giving all children the ability to thrive in school.

The benefit of early language exposure is well-demonstrated and substantial. Children who hear more words during infancy are more likely to read on grade level, graduate high school, and find a well-paying career. Unfortunately, not all families know about or are able to, offer their children this exposure. Boys and girls born into low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than children from affluent families by the time they turn three—a disparity that only expands through elementary and high school. The mission of Reach Out and Read (ROR) is to intervene early, encourage families to read together from birth and provide children with 10 books over the course of their first five years. We do this with the help of over 223 doctors’ offices in the Greater New York area. At every well check-up, pediatricians give children a free, age-appropriate book and literacy guidance.

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A physician encourages literacy with Reach Out & Read

Though our model and mission are straightforward, the breadth of clinical environments in NYC means there are likewise a diversity of challenges in implementation. As Regional Program Coordinator I have visited over seventy hospitals, clinics, and private practices to speak with doctors and hospital administrators about how ROR is implemented at their site. In giving feedback, I think about how a site’s workflow is structured and what resources may or may not be available.These experiences have given me a broader perspective of pediatric and family medicine and a better understanding of the factors that determine the efficacy of a child’s well-visit. I’ve learned that these factors are both minute (the distance between a bookcase and the exam room predicts the likelihood a nurse remembers to give his patient a book) and vast (when a doctor is concerned her patient may not have safe housing, she is less likely to give a parent literacy guidance). I’m grateful for the perspective this position has given me as I begin my own career in medicine.

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