April 2024
Mollika Sajady.

Building on her passion for using the natural world as a child development tool, Mollika Sajady (MNLEND 2018-19), is writing nature prescriptions.

After working with the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Task Force on ways to provide equitable access to outdoor activities for children, Sajady, now a developmental pediatrician at Children’s Minnesota, recently collaborated on a pilot project with the Minnesota Zoo to hand out free zoo passes to pediatricians and mental health providers, who in turn could hand them out to their patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or other conditions.

“The zoo gave us thousands of dollars’ worth of free passes that providers could hand out to patients to demonstrate the benefits of getting outside,” Sajady said. “We’re now applying for a grant to make the nature prescriptions program even bigger and better.”

As a parent of two young children, Sajady often takes her family on walks along the Mississippi River, picking up trash and talking about the importance of preserving the nature around them. An avid hiker herself, she’s a believer in the healing power of getting away from phones and experiencing the natural world. She also researched nature interventions during her developmental pediatrics fellowship at the University of Minnesota.

“She’s a true champion of the outdoor world as an integral part of children’s development,” said Andrew Barnes, MNLEND clinical director and developmental-behavioral pediatrics fellowship director at University of Minnesota Medical School. Barnes praised Sajady’s innovative research paper on how young people’s emotional and behavioral health are linked with green spaces around their schools, which led to a 2019 Tedx talk .

During her MNLEND fellowship, she also did advocacy work at the Minnesota State Capitol, including some work with Proof Alliance , formerly the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

She stayed connected with the non-profit awareness organization, which resulted in a recent training session for clinicians to polish their fetal-alcohol evaluation skills.

“That was another budded seed that continued from LEND,” she said. “The LEND experience really built a foundation of person-centered thinking that I use every day in clinical settings. When parents or caregivers talk about their concerns, we try to also step back and ask, ‘What do they love and what are their strengths?’ It helps build their story and it’s nice to put that in a chart so others can see a fuller identity of a child.”

Grateful for the support Children’s provides for her outreach work, Sajady said it has made her a more effective physician as she helps families navigate the frustratingly complex world of services for children with complex needs.

“I learned a lot during my training, but a lot of what I’ve learned, and my best teachers, came from connecting with families,” she said.