July 25, 2019 — As Mary Beth Seay, M.D. ’68, reflects on her career as a pediatrician, she finds certain experiences have left an indelible mark on her memory. One such memory comes from her days doing medical mission work in Haiti in the 1980s and early 1990s. When treating patients in a rural area, Seay was struck by the lengths people would go to ensure their loved ones received health care, and she recognized a universal quality people the world over all share.
“People would walk for several days over mountains carrying their family members to come see the American doctors. I remember four men carrying a pregnant woman in her bed over the mountains,” Seay recalls. “That experience made me realize the connection people have for each other. We’re all really the same. We just want the best for our families, and we’ll go to any length to get that help for them.”
For more than four decades, Seay treated pediatric patients in the Tallahassee area. She calls her career rewarding and the fulfillment of a professional goal she decided upon as a sixth-grader who already felt strongly about her desire to help others.
“There is so much more potential for change when treating kids compared to adults. When you treat a child, you could potentially help them develop their innate potential and make a difference in their long-term outcome,” she says. “It’s heartwarming to find yourself in that kind of a position.”
Seay’s journey as a physician began at the UF College of Medicine in 1964, where she spent most of her days either in her own personal cubicle or in the classroom. She recalls the college’s practice of assigning mentors to new students as a helpful tool.
“I remember very fondly having our own cubicles and desks. We lived in those cubicles when we weren’t in class. That was our home. It was a tiny closet, but it was yours,” she says. “We were each assigned a big brother or sister from the class ahead of us. That person mentored us through our first year and beyond, showing us the ropes and answering our questions.”
Though she has retired from her private practice and her post as regional medical director for the Florida Department of Health’s division of children’s medical services, Seay continues to serve pediatric patients as the medical director and advisor for Tallahassee’s PlayBig Therapy and Learning Center, which uses both developmental and behavioral health therapies to treat pediatric patients with autism and related conditions.
“PlayBig is a multidisciplinary therapy group. It uses the modality of play to strengthen neuropathways that support and sustain development in children, many of whom are neuroatypical. These are cutting-edge techniques to change brain circuitry, which I’m really excited about. It’s about changing and enhancing the outcomes of children’s lives,” she says.
For current medical students and those just beginning their medical careers, Seay offers advice and words of encouragement.
“You have to figure out where your passion is and follow your heart instead of following money or prestige. In the long run, that’s where satisfaction comes from,” Seay says. “Being a physician is a great privilege – to be a part of a patient’s life and enter into some of the most intimate spaces with them. It’s such a rewarding career. I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity.”