Teddy Bear Hospital reaches more than two thousand students in our community

Photograph of three medicine students wearing white coats and holding a teddy bear
By Crystal Mackay, MA'05

More than 2,000 teddy bears received their ‘Teddy-nus’ booster as part of the student run Teddy Bear Hospital Project this past year.

Using teddy bears as patients, medical and dental students visit kindergarten classrooms across the city to teach children about health and medicine. As part of a worldwide initiative, the Teddy Bear Hospital Project aims to alleviate some of the fear and anxiety that children may experience during a medical visit, and introduces them to some of the tools and procedures they may encounter at the hospital or doctor’s office.

The past academic year was a banner year for the program in terms of numbers. Ninety-two student volunteers visited 87 different classrooms and reached more than 2,000 children.

“There are two really important outcomes of Teddy Bear Hospital,” said Natalie Sloof, Medicine Class of 2021, who served as the Teddy Bear Hospital Community Outreach Coordinator. “First and foremost, it’s for the kids, but it’s also about what this provides to the student volunteers to be able to use their skills outside of the classroom to explain health-related concepts in accessible language.”

By taking the kindergarten students through stations with their teddies, volunteers introduce them to things that would happen at a typical doctor’s visit including listening with a stethoscope to their teddy’s heartbeat. They also introduce the students to preventative medicine, including hand washing and vaccinations. “I think it’s important that kids understand why those things are happening. It also helps reinforce good habits,” Sloof said.

New this past year, the students also introduced an allergy and asthma station. “Being able to talk to kids about allergies and asthma will hopefully help to destigmatize it and take some of the mystery out of it,” said Emma Reesor, Medicine Class of 2021 and the past Teddy Bear Hospital Resource Manager. “We want to reinforce that it’s not contagious. It’s not their fault. But if your friend with an allergy looks sick, you need to tell someone.”

The Teddy Bear Hospital also included dental students as volunteers for the first time. Cindy Xiao, Dentistry Class of 2022, saw immediately how the group’s mission could align with Dentistry. “Teddy Bear Hospital aims to alleviate some of the fears that kids have about going to the doctor,” said Xiao. “This sounded like a perfect opportunity for dental students to get some experience working with and discovering novel ways to make kids more comfortable about going to the dentist.”

Xiao and her classmates have developed a new station as part of Teddy Bear Hospital for this academic year that will focus specifically on helping kids to be more comfortable going to the dentist, as well as teaching them about oral hygiene.

By including the dental students and introducing a new online booking system for teachers, the Teddy Bear Hospital Project was able to increase the number of visits by 40 per cent. They also visited French-language classrooms, schools in Indigenous communities and Special Education classrooms.

“It’s a great opportunity to use our knowledge as future physicians and dentists to make a positive impact in the community,” said James Payne, Medicine class of 2021 and past Volunteer Coordinator for the Program. “And it’s fun, both for the school kids and for the student volunteers.”