Public Health Matters Video: Seacrest Studios’ Impact on Children’s Hospitals and Healing Through Broadcasting

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Tune into this episode of “Public Health Matters” for valuable insights into the intersection of entertainment, health care, and child advocacy, highlighting the importance of creating supportive and interactive environments for pediatric patients.

In this special episode of Public Health Matters, host Dr. Christina Madison interviews Mamie Shepherd, a program manager and advocate with the Ryan Seacrest Studios at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, to discuss the foundation's work in establishing Seacrest Studios in children's hospitals across the country and the impact of these studios on the well-being of young patients. Mamie Shepherd, Program Manager from Ryan Seacrest Studios at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN.

Christina M. Madison, PharmD, FCCP, AAHIVP: Hello everyone, and welcome to another exciting episode of Public Health Matters, part of the Pharmacy Times Pharmacy Focus podcast series. I'm your host, Dr. Christina Madison, also known as the public health pharmacist.

Today, I have another incredible guest with me, I'm so excited. All the way from Nashville, Tennessee, [is] my dear friend—and I would like to say my fashion icon—Mamie Shepherd, who is coming to us from inside Seacrest Studios [in] the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. I was fortunate enough to actually get a chance to visit in-person in the studio—and this was in [either October or November]—but it was such an incredible experience. We are also on the board together for Win Win Charity, and we'll chat a little bit about that as well. And so, without further ado, I'm going to go ahead and let Mamie introduce herself, and all of her wonderfulness.

Mamie Shepherd: Well, Dr. Christina, thank you so much for having me. First of all, I have to say you are 1 of the most fashionable people, so I mean, I should be taking a page out of your book because you always look amazing…but thank you so much for having me. Yes, I'm in Seacrest Studios right now, you've been here, we've been so lucky to have you come for a visit when you came to Nashville. So, this is Ryan Seacrest’s studios, he has 14 of these across the country—all in pediatric hospitals—and we just happen to be lucky number 10 here in Nashville…the Ryan Seacrest foundation is based here in Nashville, so we're really lucky to have a studio here.

We do programming all the time, 24/7, there's something on our channel for patients in the hospital here. But obviously, during the day, we do a lot of live programming. We just played a round of bingo—which I have to tell you, I am excellent at bingo.

Madison: Are we going to add that to your list of superpowers?

Shepherd: I mean, I think that should be [a superpower], people need to know that I could be a Olympic-level at this point.

Madison: If you come to Vegas, we can actually go to the casino and we can actually [play] some bingo.

Shepherd: I would be so good at it! I can't wait. I look forward to it. Thank you so much for having me. This is this is really fun for me.

Madison: Yeah, I know you're usually on the other end of this, you're usually the person interviewing, not the 1 being interviewed, so I'm sure this is probably a little bit of a different experience for you…

So I'm curious. For those who are listening or watching, they probably don't realize that Ryan Seacrest—and even the Ryan Seacrest Foundation—is doing any of this work. Obviously, you mentioned that there are 14 [studios] across the country and they're embedded inside of children's hospitals, but if you could give a little bit of the background behind even how this got started. I know that the foundation itself is located in Nashville, and I know that Ryan comes to the studio often [and that] he loves to like engage with the kids. So, if you could maybe just talk a little bit about how this even got started, because I think a lot of people aren't even familiar with the fact that Ryan Seacrest has this foundation, and that he does this work specifically for kids that have to have long-term stays within hospital systems.

Shepherd: Yeah, absolutely. Well, a lot of people know Ryan Seacrest, he is such a force in the entertainment business, you know, whether he is on hosting something on the radio [or] producing shows or specials. He is such a charitable person too, he has a wonderful family and I think [that he] throughout his time in his career, he's visited children's hospitals and kind of realized that there's a lot to engage the really young population here. But, you know, the thing about children's hospitals is that we can see children—we can see newborns all the way into early adulthood—and there's a gap I think he was seeing for some of these older kids. They're too old to play with toys, but they need some kind of outlet, and radio and TV is what Ryan knows how to do so well. So, it was kind of just a family thing over dinner 1 night, he kind of was discussing with his family what they could do to make an impact. And so, they built their first Seacrest Studio at the Children's Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia—which is his hometown—and it quickly grew. I was one of their first interns when I was in college, so I've been able to see the foundation grow, and it has been amazing to watch what the studios produce, each studio kind of has its own flavor, and each hospital is a little bit different. Their programming and the creative things that they come up with is so neat to see, and it's just been a really incredible thing. I think, for them to be able to hear patients, families, and staff talk about what an impact it's made across the country is really amazing, [this started as an] idea born out over dinner.

So yeah, this studio is looks like a full radio and TV studio, if you walked into it, you would [think] it looks just like a radio studio that you would see. A lot of professionals who come by are amazed at the equipment we have in here. And we run a fully operational radio and TV station, except if you want to hear the same song on repeat, we have the opportunity to do that. [For example], if you want to hear “Let it Go” from Frozen over and over again, we can make that happen because that's what our clientele likes. That's what the patients we serve like to hear. So, everything is geared to be entertaining [for them], and educational and fun, but obviously with a therapeutic undertone, because we're trying to help kids cope with being in the hospital and try to make it a normal environment as much as we can.

Madison: And the fact that you guys have fast food restaurants in the hospital, which is very normal, right? Like, you could get Burger King, Taco Bell, or pizza, [all of these options] are there and I was so impressed when I came.

Shepherd: Yeah [the Vanderbilt hospital] actually turns 20 next week—so we're celebrating a huge milestone—and Seacreast Studios will turn 8 in March, so we've been here for [a while], it's hard to remember what the hospital was like before Seacrest Studios because we're such a heartbeat of the hospital now. Patients—whether they're here for a long time, or maybe they're frequent fliers so they're here a lot—the studio becomes a first stop for them when they know they have to come in for an appointment or anything like that. They're like, “Oh, we got to check in with Seacrest Studios and see what's happening.” So the fact that we're able to help eliminate some of the fear that can be associated with having to come to a hospital, or receive treatment is amazing that we're able to help patients in that in that way.

Madison: Yeah, so you said that you interned with the first Ryan Seacrest Studios in Atlanta and I'm just curious to kind of see what your professional trajectory was like. So, I've heard about the intern years, but I feel like it's always nice to kind of see like how people ended up in their positions, especially for me. I feel like you have literally 1 of the coolest jobs ever, so I'm just [wondering] how did this this even happen? And I really feel like this is 1 of those times where it's such a true marriage of the 2 things that I love—which is entertainment and health care—so I'm just curious how this came to be [and what] your background [is], and obviously, you worked in radio before. But yeah, tell us all of the things.

Shepherd: Oh, you know, it's interesting. I've been working in journalism and in this field since I was in the fourth grade—my first job was in fourth grade, I know—so there was a kid-run section of the newspaper [that I wrote for] in Fort Worth, Texas—which is where I'm from. I got was working for the Class Acts Board at the Fort Worth Star Telegram in the fourth grade, so I've had some touch with journalism and broadcasting and storytelling since I was that age and I've loved to tell stories. So, I went to the University of Georgia (UGA) and studied broadcast journalism and that was such an amazing experience for me. When I was at UGA, I was kind of on the path of news so a lot of my background is in news and I kind of thought that that's the way I would go—being a reporter or an anchor or something like that—and I did a lot of that, but I met Meredith Seacrest—who runs the foundation, she's also a UGA grad—and she came and did a talk about the Seacrest Studios as they were about to be opening and she was recruiting interns, It just married—like you said—a lot of the things I was interested in…but I get to see such a different side of broadcasting, I get to see the healing side of it. There's something so powerful when a child sits behind 1 of these mics. I think a lot of times our inside voice—maybe not the 1 you hear, but the 1 that's deep inside—can get lost behind our circumstances, whether that is our home life, or maybe an illness, it can get lost behind that. And when a child rediscovers that in the studio, it is magic and it's a powerful thing that I can't describe. It's 1 of those things you have to witness…and so it married all those things that I was interested in.

I started interning for them and then stayed an intern for a large portion of my college years in Atlanta, and then when I graduated from UGA, I was hired at Seacrest Studios in Charlotte at Levine Children's Hospital. That was a wonderful experience for me, Charlotte's a beautiful city, that hospital is so wonderful, and was also on air it at 1 of the top 40 radio stations in Charlotte at the same time. So, I was working a lot, but getting a lot of incredible experience, and then after about 2 and a half years there, I got tapped to come to Nashville, and the city is amazing. The talent I've met in this city is unbelievable, I mean, I've met some of the most talented people, we've seen them in the studio, we've had them perform in this space, and it's just been such an incredible journey for me.

I think during the pandemic…the studio stayed open the whole time, obviously we weren't doing in-person visits, [we did] a lot of virtual visits and that's how we got connected with Win Win during the pandemic. And so, I was used to relying on an audience and playing off of a live audience and during the pandemic, I didn't have any of that.

Madison: That’s so different, right? Especially [since]—I feel like you're like me, you’re a true extrovert—and you get energy from other people and [being in a] physical space with other people. It’s such a different experience being on a video call and not being able to get those nonverbal cues and see people's energy and match that.

Shepherd: Absolutely, and [being able to] play off of the funny things that kids say—because kids say all kinds of things—and for a while I couldn't even see the other people I was talking to for a good portion of the pandemic. So, I really had to rely on just the art of conversation and there were a lot of hard things that happened during the pandemic and a lot of sad things. But I'm going to look for the positive, and I think that strengthened that muscle for me—hich I'm so grateful for, because I don't know when that would have come for me—but it definitely tested my some of my broadcasting skills.

I've been here for 8 years, I just celebrated 8 years in Nashville and the city is amazing and it's been good. We're getting back to a place that feels familiar post-pandemic, which is nice. So yeah, things have been really good and it's been a fun journey. I've had a lot of great experiences and have had the opportunity to meet and interview some really interesting people and see some really sweet and soft sides of people that I don't know that everybody gets to see. So, I'm truly grateful for all of it.

Madison: And I'm wondering if you want to mention your Dolly Parton connection because that is like the coolest thing when I was there…and just how touching that is.

Shepherd: First of all, who doesn't love Dolly Parton, right? She does everything and she has really been like a fairy godmother to this hospital—and really for the state of Tennessee too, this is her her home and she really does so much to take care of it—Dolly has been so generous to our hospital in so many ways. She's been in the studio a couple of times, and that is such a pinch me moment [because] she's a living icon, and she's a storyteller too. I think that that's such a neat thing about her, she had such a humble beginning…but she stayed the same and she's still that girl from Tennessee and recognizes that there's a lot of need in this world and [she] wants to do what she can to help that.

There's a beautiful butterfly wall right outside of Seacrest Studios, and [it] is named after Dolly's niece who was a patient here many years ago, and when her niece, Hannah, turned 30, she and Dolly both came back and dedicated this butterfly wall, and so there's a picture of the 2 of them right next to the butterfly wall and I get to pass that every day when I come into Seacrest Studios. I think it’s always a reminder to me to lead with kindness because that's what Dolly does. She leads with kindness and leads with the goodness in her heart and we need more of that in this world. So, you know, Dolly for president, she's just the best and she’s sparkly, which also appeals to me…but yes, Dolly is fantastic and somebody that we greatly admire here.

Madison: You guys do some really fun stuff, so if you had to pick the top 3 coolest things that you guys are able to do—because you have a green screen and you have all of this incredible equipment—what would be kind of be the top 3 of your favorite activities that you're able to do with the kids now that you're able to actually be able to be with the kids. Before it was like through CCTV and [the kids] had to be in their rooms, and you guys have a like a stage right outside…and obviously, this is with the assistance of the child life specialists (CCLS), which some people may not even know what that is or what the job and its role is. That was something that I thought was really cool that I found out about after being involved with Win Win Charity, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I want to grow up to be a CCLS, this is the coolest thing ever!”

Shepherd: Yeah, CCLS is so important, not just in our hospital, but all hospitals, they're kind of like teachers in the hospital, and they do a lot to prepare kids for what is about to happen to them or maybe what has happened to them [and they] make sure that they kind of take the fear out of something. Their whole identity is teaching through play, right, because play is the language that children speak…and so they do a lot of education through play, whether that's letting kids put their hands on medical equipment to see what it's like, or maybe they bring in a doll that has an IV so they know what's about to happen to them and so it is not as scary. So the CCLS team is vital to a lot of the work that we do. But yeah, I think the things that we do that are so fun…everything we do is really fun, but I would say bingo is probably 1 of the most popular things we do…because we're in Nashville, we get a lot of live music in here…

Madison: Everywhere has live music [in Nashville], like even coffee shop, the airport, right next to the elevator at my hotel [there is] live music. Like what is this?

Shepherd: I know, we come in clutch that way. So, I think the live music part, our staff enjoys that too and that's a break in their day. And then obviously, Win Win Charity is something that's so fun for us. We get to stream and broadcast these world-class entertainers. They come from Las Vegas, which, some of our patients have never been to Las Vegas before, so to get an experience like that and to see some magic or some juggling, illusions, ventriloquism, and all that kind of stuff, I think is something really cool. I'm always in awe of how they do some of the things that they do. I'm like, “How did they do that?”

It was interesting, we've been lucky enough to have someone Win Win entertainers come and see us in person, and John Rotellini, who won Entertainer of the Year, he came to see us in March last year, and he just happened to be in Nashville when a school shooting rocked our community, I mean, really rocked our community, and our hospital. It was really, really hard week. [We had a lot of injured], I'm not telling you anything that wasn't on the news, that was made very public. And we had to kind of shift our programming that week to fit the mood, and it was a somber and hard week, it was so tragic, what happened, and I had to be sensitive to the fact that some of the patients here knew those new those families, were connected to that school, or were just very aware of what happened. And then some patients didn't, [maybe] they were too young to know that.

John was the first entertainer and first live show we had back in-person that week, and he came in, and it was so gentle and sweet, you could just see that magic. It really was healing, just watching that visit and seeing it in-person, it was just what we needed and [that magic] was the medicine that we needed. So, it came into play at just the perfect time, but yeah, I think Win Win has been such a cool opportunity for us. That happened to us…we got connected to them during the pandemic, and it's been a staple in our programming ever since. So, we're lucky to have a lot of great partners like that, but it's been so fun to be a part of Win Win and to be connected to people like you and get to see the incredible work that you're doing as well. So, it's been a great opportunity for us.

Madison: Yeah, and just bringing it back through a public health lens and an equitable lens, I feel like when we provide this sort of environment of healing, it really is preventative, right? It's to help [children] to kind of move forward with their illness or disease, or if they have surgery, it's really a way for us to kind of help them to have positive encounters with the health care system so that later on if they do have to engage with the health care system as an adult, that they had that positive experience so they're more likely to be able to engage and feel trust of their health care professionals, and then ultimately, that should lead them to live happier and healthier lives, right? Those experiences, we know that adverse childhood experiences have a huge impact on what type of adult they're going to be, and so, I feel like because you guys are offering this incredible service—because really what this is, it's a service [where you] are serving, or you're caring, it's compassion, it's love—and so because of that, you're disrupting the potential for generational trauma, childhood trauma, adverse childhood experiences, that could be a very different thing if they were somewhere else.

So if it was up to me, and obviously I can't rule the world, but if I could…I would put a Ryan Seacrest Studio in every children’s hospital in the country—and obviously, this is a shameless plug—I want us to have one here in Las Vegas, but I don't know if that's gonna happen. But if there's any possible way that I can manifest that, I will.

Shepherd: [Seacrest Studios] has been such a special part of our hospital, and it makes up a big part of a patient's experience. A lot of happy memories are made in this room and that is a very rewarding feeling, I don't know that everybody gets that kind of instant reward or instant gratification, I wish they did. We hear people stop by all the time and tell us the amazing stories of doctors, nurses, CCLS, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and [these] people who have changed their lives upstairs, and I don't know that they always get to hear that, but we certainly do. And that's a really special thing.

Madison: Well, personally, I can tell you, it definitely is something that changed my perspective. So, I had an emergency appendicitis at 9 and was at Sunrise Hospital, and we didn't have necessarily a studio like you have, but they had a playroom, and they rolled in a game console, and they had a TV in there, and the staff was so kind. My mom was working at the time, so she couldn't be there with me all the time when I was hospitalized, but that experience made me want to work and health care and made me want to help children. So, personally, I know what an impact it is, when you just have that little extra that helps someone get through some really difficult times.

Shepherd: Yes, it inspires a new generation of medical professionals. The amount of kids who come in here and say, “I want to be a doctor,” or “I want to be a nurse or a CCLS,” it's really cool to see that they've had such a happy experience here under trying circumstances [and they] want to help other people.

I think that is something else I've learned here is there's a level of generosity from patients and families that we see here is above and beyond. Sometimes it's people who are just really out of everything, out of money, resources, time, options…and they're the most giving and generous people, and if those people who are in the midst of their own personal pandemic or their own personal crisis, if they can be giving then certainly I can be giving, too. That's such a lesson to me, always.

Madison: Incredible. Okay, I could talk to you forever, but we have to be mindful of people's time. But I do have a last question for you before we wrap up, I always ask this question of my guests. If there was 1 thing that you could tell your younger self, what would it be and why?

Shepherd: Something to tell my younger self…I think I would tell my younger self to hold on and keep going. I would never have dreamt any of this for myself. I think also to see people and see things for what they are, and to continue to love people. I think that kindness is something we need, always, and a lot of kids have that in them. Somewhere along the way we lose that sometimes, life and stress…we can lose that. Mr. Rogers was a great hero of mine, and he had this idea of “how do we make goodness attractive” and I think I would tell my younger self to continue to surround yourself with people who are good and kind, and that will always win. It will always be the thing that fuels you forward. So, I think that that's what I would tell my younger self [among] a lot of different things.

And also to definitely listen to your mom and get the highlights. Your mom was right, you did need highlights and you would love them.

Madison: Oh my God, that's awesome.

Shepherd: What would you tell your younger self?

Madison: To not be quiet. That's my big thing, I think that I have a big personality and I think I often [would] suppress that when I was younger because I felt like I would be judged poorly. I think for me, it's you're not too much, you're just enough…Because

now live all out like, no-one is gliding me now.

Shepherd: I think you have an amazing personality. It's so fun to watch your journey and all the incredible things you get to do and, and I'm so proud to call you [my] friend. It's been such a nice thing to get to know you and I loved having you in Nashville. I hope you'll come back.

Madison: Yeah, hopefully I will be able to like navigate my way back there.

Shepherd: I'll take you to a honky-tonk that has 3 levels of different musicians.

Madison: Okay, all right, we gotta make it a date.

So, if the audience wants to find out more information about Ryan Seacrest Studios, or if they want to get connected with the Studio that's in their area, or find out more information about Win Win Charity, where should they find all of these amazing things? And we'll have the links in the show notes as well.

Shepherd: Well, first of all, I would tell you to follow @ryanfoundation on Instagram, because you can see the moments that happen, some pictures, and I think that that is really powerful to see. So, I would tell you to find them on Instagram, and there's a link to their website on Instagram…I would tell you to look them up there because then you can see for yourself the magic moments that happen across the country, you'll get to see them, which is really cool.

And I would say the same for Win Win, keep up with them on socials because they post a lot of great moments too, and you get to see some of the incredible talent they have come through these children's hospitals. It's some really dynamic entertainers and people that you would pay to see…and I'm always amazed at the work that they do. So that is a really cool thing to see too. I would say follow them on social media, and then that'll link you to their websites that can get you plugged in and involved. Those are 2 great organizations that have a similar goal in mind to help these kids in the hospital. So it's really cool.

Madison: What if people want to connect with you, because you’re amazing as well.

Shepherd: I'm also on Instagram, @mamieshepherd is where you can find me. But yeah, this has been so fun. I wish I could give you a big hug through the screen.

Madison: Well, again, Mamie Shepherd [is an] extraordinary producer, host, an incredible child advocate, and you're just so shiny and lovely. Literally the first time I met you, I was like, “She's so sparkly!” I don't think I've ever met anybody that just beamed, when we first met. So, yeah, [you’re] just super incredible and I'm so glad we were able to do this. I'm so glad that I have this platform and that I'm able to share what you're doing, the incredible work that the Ryan Seacrest Foundation is doing, and talk a little bit about Win Win.

I have a lot of colleagues that work in children's hospitals that are clinical pharmacists that specialize in pediatric care, and I think for me, I just really wanted to bring some attention and light to this lovely sub-section of health care and even just talking about CCLS, I don't think a lot of people know about [that], and how that could really change the trajectory and the lives of the kids, especially if they're in [hospitals] for multiple weeks at a time, and [it’s] something that I've been so grateful to be involved in. It's my second year with Win Win and I just really wanted to bring some light and attention to it.

I'm so glad that you were willing to jump on a call with me, especially since you're normally the interviewer, not the interviewee, so I'm so glad that you let me take the wheel. And then also, if you ever want or need someone to come and talk about anything public health-related, that I'm your girl and I'd be happy to come virtually or in-person if I'm able to get over there. But yeah, I would love to return the favor because I just think that you have a lot of amazing things going on, and I'm just glad that I'm able to bring some light to them.

Shepherd: Well, keep doing the amazing work you're doing and thank you so much for having me. We will certainly have you here. We'll have to play Wheel of Fortune maybe, or some other fun game. We can certainly make that happen. I would love that, so thank you so, so much, Dr. Christina, you're incredible.

Madison: Mutual admiration. All right, everyone, this has been another incredible episode of Public Health Matters, part of Pharmacy Times Pharmacy Focus podcast series. Again, I am your host, Dr. Christina Madison, also known as the public health pharmacist, and remember, public health matters.

You can find Mamie Shepherd on LinkedIn and Instagram (@mamieshepherd).

You can find the Ryan Seacrest Foundation on their website and Instagram (@ryanfoundation), and more information on the Seacrest Studios on their website.

You can find Win Win Charity on their website and socials, including Instagram and Facebook (@winwincharity).

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