March 31, 2022

With a “give-it-your all attitude,” Heather Winters is devoted to helping children reach their full potential

As a pediatric occupational therapist, Winters is always thinking how she can better serve the children she encounters each day.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Heather Winters’ impact as an occupational therapist reaches far beyond the walls of the Susan Gray School, an inclusive preschool on the Peabody campus at Vanderbilt University that partners with Pediatric Rehabilitation Services at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Her workday might include the onsite occupational therapy clinic in the Susan Gray School, an educational in-service for Susan Gray’s teachers, screenings for a family with concerns about their child’s feeding, fine motor or sensory skills, or a collaboration with an outside elementary school about adaptations needed in the classroom for a child leaving the Susan Gray School.

For her “give-it-your-all attitude” and devotion to the children and families she serves, Winters was named a Credo Award winner during the February 2022 virtual Leadership Assembly.

“We had a patient who was exploring options for different kindergartens in Nashville, and Heather volunteered her time to directly visit the private school to assess the environment and provide teacher education on the child’s unique needs (both physical and learning). At the end of the visit, she offered to do an in-service for the teachers closer to the beginning of school on how to promote an inclusive educational environment for their students,” a colleague wrote in Winters’ nomination. “This is one of the many examples of how Heather has gone above and beyond meeting the needs of her patients, not just in their therapy sessions, but also in their daily lives and community,” the colleague wrote.

“Heather never takes the easy way — she consistently chooses the best thing for the patient and provides the services that she recommends to her fullest ability,” another colleague wrote. “This is because Heather has an innate pride and sense of ownership in her practice and drives those around her to also achieve excellence.”

Winters, who has been at Vanderbilt for almost 17 years, said her main focus as a pediatric occupational therapist is thinking how she can better serve the children she encounters each day.

“Every day I walk into this job thinking, ‘What can I do to make someone more successful and more independent? How can I make everyone feel comfortable, independent and strong in helping these children succeed in life? And how do I make these children feel comfortable, strong and positive, to have good self-worth, to feel happy in their own skin and be the best version of themselves? That’s my goal. I just take that to heart,” Winters said.

“Everything that’s needed, I want to help with, whether it’s past my work hours,” she said. “It might be a phone call to a parent to help them navigate how to get their child down at bedtime, or maybe a parent is very fearful about leaving Susan Gray and such a supportive environment and just needs to talk. I want them to be so comfortable and feel so successful in being able to advocate for their child.”

Winters, who with her husband, her high school sweetheart, has two children, doesn’t believe she’s alone in her work ethic. “Nobody comes to work at Vanderbilt to be an average employee. You come to Vanderbilt because expectations are so high here, and you don’t want to give 100%; you want to give 120%. That should be the outlook of anyone providing services to children and their families.”

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.