Priti P. Desai PhD, MPH, CCLS


Dr. Priti P. Desai, a certified child life specialist (CCLS), is an associate professor in the Human Development and Family Science Department at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies and master’s in Child Development from the Maharaja, Sayajirao University of Baroda, India; master’s in Public Health from Emory University, USA; and a bachelor’s in psychology from Gujarat University, India.

Prior to teaching at ECU, she worked as a CCLS at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore to promote children’s adjustment and coping with illness and healthcare experiences. In India, she worked for CHETNA, a health education organization, addressing the needs of children, women, and families in rural, tribal, and urban slum areas.

Volunteer work with Operation Smile (OS) has been part of Dr. Desai’s life for 30 years, since serving on her first mission in Colombia in 1992. In addition to providing direct patient care, Dr. Desai serves as an educator, presenter, and co-chair of the Psychosocial Provider Medical Specialty Council. Dr. Desai has been a contributor to the review, update, and inclusion of specific psychosocial care practices within OS Global Standards of Care. She advocates to provide culturally sensitive, trauma informed, emotionally safe pediatric care in Operation Smile partner countries. Dr. Desai has worked collaboratively to create psychosocial provider credentialing standards, policies, role descriptions, training materials and other written resources for OS programs. Her experience bringing a lens of diversity has been transformative for these core documents. Dr. Desai is actively working to bridge the gap of access to psychosocial care education in OS program settings by developing a psychosocial curriculum for the OS global family.

Other than her OS work, Dr. Desai has made numerous presentations to develop awareness and capacity building for psychological needs of children with health concerns and their families. Her published work includes research and review articles in peer reviewed journals as well as textbook chapters. In her local setting, she has initiated and directed a camp for children with complex heart defects living in eastern North Carolina. She has received many awards throughout her career, including child life’s highest professional honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 2013, as well as one of Operations Smile’s US Volunteer of the Year in 2021.

Dr. Desai credits her zeal and work ethic to her parents, grandparents, and many mentors. She has a very intriguing collection of camels – her favorite animal.