By Anita Creamer, Vitals contributor
A family medicine clinic in Elk Grove, Calif., doesn’t hand out suckers to pediatric patients. They give books.
Mary Tucker, a family practice clinical assistant with Elk Grove Family Medicine, knew she loved books — and she knew her five grandchildren loved books, too. In 2018, when she learned that her 6-month-old grandson had received a little book during his most recent well-child visit to a clinic elsewhere, Mary put the pieces together.
“I thought, all children should have books,” she says. “The more you read to a child, the more you expand their horizons and teach them words. You take them to a whole new world through the written word. Reading to kids brings me joy.”
So does comforting and calming young patients who come to the doctor’s office.
The Room to Read Book Closet she founded at her family practice office has distributed 340 books since November 2018.
She bought her first 150 books through Scholastic, the children’s book publisher, making sure that she acquired books appropriate for both boys and girls, from babies through the sixth grade. She also had bake sales and asked doctors in the practice for contributions.
When young patients come in for their well-child visit — or if they’re at the doctor’s office with an injury — Mary or another staff member selects a book for them. More recently, they’ve given books to children receiving their COVID-19 vaccine at the practice’s clinic.
“I love being able to help people,” Mary says. ”I’ve been here almost 35 years, and now I’m caring for some of my first patients’ grandkids — the babies’ babies.”
She hopes the book closet for young patients will be her lasting legacy at the Sutter clinic. Already, there have been discussions of expanding the program to other family practice clinics.
“As long as the children get books, that’s the bottom line,” she says. “The mamas come back in, and they say, ‘My child wanted me to read that book to them every night.’ That’s all that matters.”