Helping children to grin and bear it

Teddy Bear Hospital by University Medics: Ollie Thompson (4) injecting Crusty watched by medic Robbie Ure
Teddy Bear Hospital by University Medics: Ollie Thompson (4) injecting Crusty watched by medic Robbie Ure

Frightened of hospital? Hundreds of children took their teddy bears for a check-up by Sheffield students. David Bocking explains

“Just going to hospital and seeing a doctor can be quite scary,” said final year medical student Tejaswi Bommireddy. “I know when I’m on a ward how difficult it can be – sometimes if you just go up and talk to talk to a child in hospital they’re so scared they just start crying.”

For the last four years, Tejaswi and dozens of fellow medics at Sheffield University have been tackling public fear of their profession by offering an open clinic at Weston Park Museum for teddy bears and assorted fluffy rabbits, puppies, kittens and gorillas.

Last Saturday, over 600 children and parents brought the family cuddly toys for a health check carried out by a 66 strong team of medical students as part of the ‘Teddy Bear Hospital’ education project of the European Medical Students Association.

“The project aims to educate young children about how a hospital runs so if they do go in a hospital in future they won’t fear it as much,” said Tejaswi. “They also learn about healthy eating, exercise and anatomy.

“As medical students we also get to work with children and to practice our communication skills, so it’s a two way thing with benefits for both students and children.”

Children of primary school age (and a few younger) guided their teddies through a programme of checks and procedures. Blood pressure, heart rate and weight were measured and most also underwent X-rays and MRI scans. Many injuries were detected, with several bears and cats requiring injections, plasters and bandages.

“Fluffy is pretty good I think,” said Issy Saul, aged six. “We did an X-ray to show the bones and that was alright and then we did an MRI to show the parts of the body. I think I’d be a bit nervous if I had to come into hospital, so this will help because now I know what the scans do and they won’t hurt me.”

Sandra Sooklall was offering moral support as her daughters Martha and Rebekah nervously watched their teddies go through the specially built cardboard MRI scanner.

“At some point most of the children will see a GP or be in hospital so doing this and making it a bit of fun means if they do have to go for an X-ray or have their heart listened to they won’t be as scared,” she said. “The students are probably having a great time too I imagine.”

“It is fun to be on the teaching side of things,” said medic Louise Taylor. “Communication is a big part of our course, so this is good practice for us.”

The Teddy Bear Hospital also included tooth care advice from dental students and accident prevention information regarding the contents of bathroom cabinets.

Volunteer medical students had spent months fundraising, raising over £800. They have started offering a smaller event to local schools, and the team hopes to expand this part of the project.

“It important for the medical practice to communicate to the wider world, because the more patients are educated, the more willing they are to communicate, and there’ll be less misunderstanding,” said Tejaswi. “Having that contact in a non-medical setting is great, and even parents are educated in a way..”

Parents often enjoy the day as much as their children - to the extent that they even bring their own teddies.