October 06, 2016

Joey: Making it better

Med students offer friendship to pediatric patients and their families

Medical student at children's hospital

MedBuddies is one of several programs sponsored by the University of Michigan’s child advocacy group MedStart. Comprised of students from the schools of Nursing, Medicine, Social Work, Public Health, Dentistry, Law and Business, MedStart is dedicated to increasing awareness of critical issues that impact children.

Through MedBuddies, medical and nursing students are paired with a pediatric patient and their family to provide ongoing friendship and emotional support while the child is hospitalized at Mott Children’s Hospital.

Here M2 Joey answers seven questions about what it’s like to bring comfort to the littlest patients and their families when they need it most.

How does MedBuddies work?

MedBuddies is a fairly independent program. There are not many group events; our goal is to form one-on-one relationships between students and children staying at Mott. We coordinate through Child Life to some extent. For example, Child Life Specialists on some floors help decide which patients would benefit most from having a buddy, and they facilitate activities for pairs in the activity rooms and patient rooms. My job is to help form the pairs by meeting the students and patients, and organizing at a group level.

How many med students participate in MedBuddies?

There are usually around 50-60 participants in the program including Nursing, Medical, and occasionally pharmacy students. Nursing students make up the largest portion, with around 10-20 medical students per year. While a volunteer is paired with a buddy, we ask that they spend at least five hours per week with them. However, volunteers are not always paired with a buddy, so the commitment can vary.

How do students get involved?

It’s quite a competitive application process since it is such a unique opportunity. Applications are reviewed by the MedBuddies coordinators and accepted based on a variety of factors, after which we offer a spot to as many students as we can. We then have an orientation and compliance meeting, after which students are paired with a child.

What have you learned through MedBuddies?

MedBuddies has taught me so much about the hospital experience for children and their families. I’ve learned how exhausting a hospitalization can be on a child and their family, and how resilient they can be despite that emotional and physical toll. I’ve also learned that little gestures of compassion and empathy go a long way, and the power of friendship during a stressful time.

How has your participation in MedBuddies contributed to your med school experience?

I am on the leadership board for MedStart, the pediatrics volunteering and advocacy organization that supports, funds, and helps facilitate programs like Child Advocacy Seminar, MedArt, Project H Clinic, and MedBuddies. I was also involved in planning the Child Advocacy Seminar, which put on health education programs in elementary schools in Detroit this past spring.

What do you think MedBuddies contributes to patients and their families’ experience at Mott?

Families appreciate a consistent and caring person who is not part of the medical team, who they can trust and rely on while their child is hospitalized. Participating and leading the MedBuddies program offered me a unique insight into the experience of a pediatric patient and their family. It allowed me to see things from the other side of the medical interaction that I hadn’t before.

What would you say to a prospective student about the benefits of attending the University of Michigan for medical school?

I think the variety of opportunities outside of the classroom is a great aspect of UMMS. There is great diversity in the interests and passions of students, and this allows us great flexibility in expressing those interests with other students and throughout the community.

I would encourage prospective and future students to take advantage of the time during preclinical years to explore interests in medicine and outside of medicine. It helps keep us grounded, happy, and healthy, and there are opportunities to do a lot of good for others in this time. It is easy to get caught up in the stress of medical school, but we should always remember that we are in a humanistic profession and that we need to maintain our humanity in order to be at our best. I feel that opportunities like MedBuddies do that: allow us to expand our perspective and leave a positive impact on others.