The lobby of the Sophia Children’s Hospital was transformed into a ‘teddy bear hospital’ on Tuesday morning. In the centre of the lobby stood a large craft table with a white dotted tablecloth on top. On the table were colouring sheets and pencils. Various stuffed animals were sitting together on a desk, from elephants to tigers and teddy bears. Finally, there were four ‘stalls’, meant to represent different locations: the GP, the radiology department, the operating theatre and the pharmacy.

Bear needs a shot. Image credit: Daan Stam

At 10.00 am, the song Klaar voor de Start (Ready to Start) by the Kinderen voor Kinderen Dutch children’s choir could be heard through the speakers. A very appropriate choice, as the students were ready to welcome the first children. On teddy bear doctor day, children become doctors. They can bring their own ‘sick’ soft toys or choose one in the hall. They then walk past the stalls to heal their stuffed animals.

White lab coat

Student Wolf helps Evie-Lee with her tiger. Image credit: Daan Stam

Evie-Lee, five years old, chooses a tiger. “Do you also want to wear a lab coat?”, a student asks her. Evie-Lee nods enthusiastically. As a patient herself, the girl is a regular visitor to the Sophia Children’s Hospital. “And she normally wears her own white lab coat during her appointments. She loves it”, says her mother. The girl then hops from one stall to the next. At ‘radiology’, student Wolf helps Evie-Lee with a scan. “Oh dear, I see his leg is broken”, he tells her. “Maybe you can operate on him there in the operating theatre.”

The lobby is starting to get crowded. Four children are busy healing their stuffed animals. And that’s exactly what we want, says organiser Eline van Haren. “Children can find a hospital visit scary, which is why we want to create a positive association through the teddy bear doctor,” the third-year Medicine student explains. “You can also see this activity as a way to help children come to terms with things. Many children undergo intense treatment, and now they get to ‘treat’ their own soft toys.”

Visiting the departments

As the lobby fills up with children, Eline and fellow student Julianne walk towards the lift. Together, they push a ‘mobile teddy bear cart’, a decorated white medical trolley full of stuffed animals and craft supplies. A stuffed monkey hangs on the cart sideways, and a balloon in the shape of a rabbit is attached to it. “We take this cart past the beds of the children who cannot come to us”, says Eline.

Eline (left) and Julianne walk around on the first floor. Image credit: Daan Stam

In the Day Care Unit, there is a little boy aged around three. He has a Mickey Mouse with him. “What a beautiful toy”, Julianne says. She hands a stethoscope to the little boy. “Would you maybe like to check Mickey’s heart rate?”

Student volunteers

In the ‘operation theatre’. Image credit: Daan Stam

While Eline and Julianne take a tour of the first floor, first-year students Renée and Wolf help the children in the lobby. They are not members of IFMSA but are participating during the morning as volunteers. “I think it’s important for children to feel comfortable in hospital”, Renée says. “It’s also fun to see the different ways in which children approach the activity”, Wolf adds. “Some are very enthusiastic and pretend to be real doctors, while others are a bit reserved and prefer to watch from the sidelines.”

In ‘the pharmacy’, the stuffed animals get a mouth mask and a bandage. Image credit: Daan Stam

Meanwhile, more than fifteen children have cured their soft toys in the lobby of the Sophia Children’s Hospital. Reda has operated on his raccoon. “He has broken legs and arms”, says the six-year-old. He is going home now, but he wants to visit the teddy bear doctor again first. “Hello, doctor!”, Renée greets him. The little boy laughs and gives Renée a high five. “Now he wants to be ‘a real doctor’ when he grows up”, says his father.