Teddy Bear Clinic makes learning about health fun for children


Children and families in the Detroit area had the opportunity to learn about health and wellness at the recent Teddy Bear Clinic, hosted by Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine students at the Detroit Public Library Campbell Branch. The family event, designed for children and their teddies, as well as parents and caregivers, helps children overcome the fear of going to the doctor while in a fun, safe environment that encourages healthy habits.  

Normally held in elementary school classrooms, the college’s medical students found an alternative for this Teddy Bear Clinic since school was out of session during the summer.  “We kind of shifted our focus from schools to reaching out to libraries,” said Shravya Chanamolu, OMS II, who helped organize the event. “A lot of us spent a lot of our summers at libraries, so we thought it would be a good place to reach our target audience of younger kids.”

Children are encouraged to bring a favorite teddy bear or stuffed animal for a checkup. Chanamolu explained that using teddy bears as a fun teaching tool can help alleviate any anxiety the kids may have about visiting the doctor.

At the event, she was joined by fellow second-year osteopathic medical students Nikila Nallabelli and Misha Brown. The three held a lively discussion with the children and their parents, covering topics such as nutrition, bone health, how the heart and lungs work and how oxygen circulates in the body, as well as answering questions from the kids.  

“We also take our stethoscopes with us and pretend to listen on the teddy bear, and we bring an X-ray of a teddy bear so you can see the bones,” Chanamolu said. “The children really tend to like that.”

Other activities included having the children stand up and jump around, or move around like mountain climbers, to demonstrate how the heart and lungs react. Because the library has more space than classrooms, the elementary students were able to choose from a wider range of exercises. The setting also allowed them to utilize a more flexible format, and the medical students encouraged the kids to lead the discussion.

“I got involved in the Teddy Bear Clinics because I love working with kids and teaching them about their bodies,” Brown said. “I think the body is amazing in how it works, and I love to help children appreciate the cool things their bodies do for them every day.”

“Teaching the young children of Detroit about their health and bodies was so fun and inspiring,” Nallabelli concurred. “The excitement on their faces as we explained how the brain and heart work and their curiosity was really adorable and increased my love for the pediatric population.” She added that as future physicians, learning how to communicate with patients in terms that they understand is critical, and that working at the Teddy Bear Clinic was an invaluable opportunity to practice those skills.

Chanamolu said holding the clinic at a library worked out very well, and she hopes that moving forward it can continue. “We have talked to some of the librarians, and they said that a lot of kids actually do come after school to their library. So, I think we’re going to try to have a balance of going to elementary schools, as well as doing outreach with the libraries, because I think we will get more engagement and involvement that way.”

For more information about the Teddy Bear Clinics, contact Shravya Chanamolu at chanamol@msu.edu.