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Einstein Medical Students “Buddy Up” to Help Patients with Disabilities

Teacher showing inkblot paintings to student

Trips to doctors and dentists can be especially anxiety-provoking and traumatic for patients with disabilities and their families.

During my second year at Einstein, my fellow Einstein classmate Kyle Kelson and I became more aware of this during an enlightening session of Introduction to Clinical Medicine that focused on caring for families of children with disabilities.

For many of us, it was our first experience working and interacting with patients with developmental and physical disabilities. After the session, we wanted to do more.

We began thinking about how we could make a difference. We realized that we could play a role by making “trips to the doctor” more comfortable. The goal was to promote regular interactions between medical students and patients with disabilities at the clinic, while helping foster positive relationships.

Slowly and after much planning, the idea became a student club known as Einstein Buddies. We met with Dr. Robert Marion of Einstein’s Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center. Enthusiastic and helpful, Dr. Marion put us in contact with Carol Terilli and Elizabeth Ridgway from Einstein’s Rose F. Kennedy Center, and progress began.

Our idea was to have medical students attend physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions and be “buddies” with the children. Each medical student would regularly return for sessions with the same child.

Here’s how it usually works: A single student accompanies a child during his or her physical or occupational therapy sessions. The student may help motivate and encourage the child as he or she practices various household tasks, or may even take karate sessions with the child. The student then gets to meet and talk with the child’s family members.

Our hope for the club is that by working with children and talking to parents, the medical student “buddies” will better understand and develop a keener sensitivity toward the challenges of disability.

It’s been gratifying to see the positive reactions of the children and know that we’re definitely helping them. The children are also changing many of us. We get a unique perspective on what it’s like to be a child with a disability. And, more importantly, how to help one.

Medical school is stressful. Working with the kids is fun and also allows us to step back and gain perspective.

It’s been great to get the club off the ground and watch it have an impact. At the end of our second year, as Kyle and I were studying for the boards and preparing to begin our third-year clerkships, we became concerned about who would carry the Einstein Buddies torch. But the incoming club leaders, Lindy Zhang and Dana Egan-Sherry, took over and through their hard work kept Buddies going. Now as Lindy and Dana end their second year and prep for their clerkships, we’ve watched them hand the reins to Vivy Tran and Benjamin Puliafito.

It’s inspiring to watch an idea come to life. I’m proud to know that in some small way we’re helping bring future doctors and these young patients together.

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