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Peds Pals help kids conquer school challenges while coping with hospital visits

Peds Pals help kids conquer school challenges while coping with hospital visits

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Frequent or extended absences, changes in physical appearance, medication management and pain are just a few of the special challenges that pediatric patients face at school. Patients at the Waters’ Center for Childhood Cancers and Blood Disorders at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital have some new friends helping them to prepare for and overcome those challenges. They are Upstate Medical University College of Medicine students who have volunteered to be Peds Pals.

Upstate student Michael Enechukwu, Class of 2017, and Kristi Griffin, education specialist at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, developed the Peds Pals program. This year’s program includes 21 students, who team up to mentor 10 patients. Each Peds Pal is connected to the patient’s school to ensure that they are providing appropriate academic support and may visit the school on occasion. Likewise, patients have visited their pals at school, sometimes working on projects side-by-side in the Upstate Health Sciences Library.

“Often a school will require that there be interventions before they offer accommodations or assistance,” Griffin explained. “Some of our Peds Pals regularly go to the patient’s school to meet with teachers. I’m unbelievably impressed by the caliber of humanity and emotional commitment made by the medical students in this program.”

Griffin previously implemented a tutoring program that was staffed by retired teachers and Syracuse University students that consisted exclusively of tutoring sessions at the hospital. Because Upstate students staff the Peds Pals program, the relationship between a patient and their pal can include off-site activities, like a back-to-school shopping excursion or even a backstage experience at a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis concert.

Participation in the program is rewarding for the medical students. Former participant Sarah Kline, Class of 2016, says, “Outside of the hospital, we learn about what day-to-day life is actually like for the patient. This experience taught me how important it is to get to know my patient, and not just her disease and treatment course.”

Caption: Participants in the 2014-2015 Peds Pals program on a recent visit to the Water’s Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. The Peds Pals are students at Upstate Medical University who work in pairs to tutor and mentor patients at the center. There are currently 10 patients receiving services from the program.