Green Country Grown-Up: Dr. Amy Emerson
Pediatrician and advocate for children
Dr. Amy Emerson and family. Photo by Shane Bevel.
As a mother of four and pediatrician, Dr. Amy Emerson carries a personal belief that it is her moral obligation to provide support and care for others, especially those less fortunate. This belief, coupled with her extraordinary heart and steadfast determination, has led her to become an important advocate of several notable non-profit organizations helping parents and children.
She is confident that investing time and attention in our kids now will make a positive difference for future generations, especially those who have traditionally been in poverty. As she continues work to expand these educational programs and build financial support, her real focus remains on the future of the kids in our community.
TK: Tell us about yourself:
Dr. Emerson: Growing up, I realized fairly early on that I was interested in studying medicine. I attended medical school and focused on pediatrics with a specialization in developmental and behavioral issues. After moving to Tulsa, I had the opportunity to work with families at The University of Oklahoma’s Pediatric Clinic. During that time, I worked with patients who were diagnosed with autism, ADHD, experiencing developmental delays or had other parent-child struggles.
TK: Tell us about your family:
Dr. Emerson: My husband, Clint, and I have been married for 23 years. We have four amazing children, from 10-14 years old, own a couple of businesses and attend Park Church of Christ. We also have a fish and a dog named Roux who joined our family just a few months ago.
TK: What does your family enjoy doing together?
Dr. Emerson: We love going on trips together, especially road trips. We are not big on allowing electronics, especially not in the car. I try to be intentional about having fun things to occupy our time. For example, reading aloud is a great way for children to let their imagination grow. I will admit, it takes some preplanning but the end result of building memories in the car is what we enjoy. Our favorite places are the mountains and New Orleans.
TK: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that you would like to pass along?
Dr. Emerson: Growing up, my parents supported me unconditionally. I was raised in a home where my parents told me I could do and be anything I dreamed of, and they taught me to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. I know I am very blessed to have grown up in a home with two very loving parents. Having that beginning has shaped me into the person I am today. I believe that if we plant that seed in all our children, we help them get the best start in life, and they will achieve their dreams.
TK: What sparked your interest in pediatrics?
Dr. Emerson: I was (and still am) fascinated by science – especially brain development. Studying pediatrics allowed me to do what I love and put it into practice in so many ways.
TK: What are some ways you are able to put your professional background into practice?
Dr. Emerson: I work and volunteer in several local programs that target families with young children, and often these families look different than the traditional family in which I grew up, either because of socio-economics or exposure to trauma. We are working through these organizations to meet families where they are – we do not want poverty or mental illness (brain illness) to be isolating. We are encouraging social connections, development of problem-solving abilities and relationship-building as well as connections to services that offer pathways to a more secure future.
TK: Can you highlight the organizations you are a part of and how they benefit children?
Dr. Emerson: Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing (talkingisteachingtulsa.com) sponsored by GKFF. Our program was one of the first in the country with its primary focus on supporting community partners to host monthly events at which we model ways to build healthy relationships with children beginning at birth. This program is implemented through Tulsa Educare’s Beyond the Walls team, which I’m proud to be a part of. We work with amazing folks all over our city including faith-based partners, recovery programs and in-home daycares, and everyone is invited to attend our fun events at which books are given and meals are shared.
Reach Out and Read: (reachoutandread.org) – weaves early literacy into well-child check-ups. A child is given an age-appropriate book to take home, and doctors have an opportunity to practice medicine with a book along with a stethoscope as they disseminate information about brain growth and building healthy relationships in families through important activities like book sharing.
Lilyfield Empower Tulsa (empowerfamiliesokc.com)-an adoption/foster care agency that has recently launched an ambitious preventive program designed to transform families and communities into places where children are safe and can thrive. We are actively recruiting volunteers to serve as community connectors and mentors for children in elementary school.
TK: What is the significance of these programs?
Dr. Emerson: Research has shown a 30 million word gap (in amount and type of words) in children who come from homes where they are encouraged to explore, ask open-ended questions and have parents who are talking, singing and reading to their kids versus homes where children are told to be quiet and do not have much positive interaction. This number translates into about 1100 words less in a child’s vocabulary when they enter school. These programs work to encourage parents in what they are doing well and provide support and resources in areas that may need more emphasis. It takes a village to raise children, and we need to support each other in our community.
TK: How do these programs benefit children and families?
Dr. Emerson: For the array of health and wellness benefits they offer on a long-term basis. Statistics show that adult illnesses such as depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes are linked to the adverse things that happen in childhood, and the more relationships we can build during these years, the more we seem to protect kids. Recognizing the importance of pouring time into and building healthy connections for our kids will benefit this community for years to come.
TK: Why are you so passionate about serving in these organizations?
Dr. Emerson: I feel we all have a moral obligation to help others in our community, especially babies and children who have no control over the circumstances in which they are placed. There are many ways to get involved besides being an advocate. You can donate time, money or books to any (or all) of these organizations.
TK: How do parents/caregivers react to these programs?
Dr. Emerson: I meet parents every day who want to be the best they can be for their children, but sometimes there are things standing in the way of healthy parenting. It could be lack of resources, fear of judgment, health issues, history of their own neglect or abuse, or a variety of other reasons; and more times than not, when they are offered opportunities to help support their children, they take them. When they realize they can break a cycle that has been perpetuated for generations, they want to be part of that change.
TK: What advice have you learned that you can pass along to others?
Dr. Emerson: There is a season for everything. When my children were young, it was important for me to be close to home and be with them as much as I could. Now that they’re older, I have more flexibility and time to be involved in other passion projects. This is my season of yes!
TK: What’s next?
Dr. Emerson: Next month, there will be an opportunity for families to donate new books to the programs mentioned. This city-wide and student-led book drive gives everyone a chance to donate to a program that will have a lasting impact on local families. It’s been such fun to see the next generation already fully engaged in making Tulsa the best city for children to live in and their enthusiasm keeps me young! For details, go to www.reachoutandread.org or Tulsa Teens Unite on Facebook.