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Teddies talking Te Reo

Otago students and Teddy Bear Hospital advocates

When Dunedin’s Teddy Bear Hospital included Te Reo Māori consultations for the first time this year, medical students needed to brush up on less regularly used words such as stethoscope.

Stethoscope is pūoko whakaroto, Otago Medical School third year student Courtney Sullivan says.

“Obviously the kids didn’t even know what a stethoscope is anyway!”

Children bringing their teddy bears for treatment would listen as second and third year medical students described what a stethoscope does.

Me whakarongo tāua i tō manawa – we listen to your heart with it.”

The Teddy Bear Hospital was held late in May. One of its aims is to break down barriers and stigmas about going to the doctor, thus possibly improving future health outcomes.

About 300 youngsters took their toys to weekday clinics or a Saturday Community Day which featured the Te Reo sessions.

Children and their families took toys to be examined at Te Reo Māori consultations held for the first time during the Teddy Bear Hospital Community Day in Dunedin. Photo: supplied

Coordinator Alex Dempsey says medical students learn that Māori are overrepresented in health statistics.

“We need to get some awareness out there about approaching medical care and making it fun,” she says.

Practising interaction with children

Generally, the Teddy Bear Hospital is a chance for medical, dental, pharmacy and physiotherapy students to gain crucial experience consulting with children.

Courtney says many university students don’t have much interaction with children.

“It’s good to be able to use our skills that we’ve learned on the teddies. Also allowing that human element to come in and realise that sometimes it’s about just being there; having a conversation.”

The benefits flow both ways.

Kids bring their teddies and it lessens the scariness of going to clinics. Kids are scared of going to the doctor and dentist.”

At the Teddy Bear Hospital, a youngster may explain that their teddy has a sore arm, so students help the child treat this, perhaps using a medical instrument.

Children receive mock prescriptions for one piece of fruit and go to pharmacy students to have these prescriptions fulfilled, one fruit piece at a time.

They are also given old x-rays, purportedly of their teddies. Students pretend to x-ray the toys, however some children are too savvy.

One of the teddy bear x-rays given to children at the annual Teddy Bear Hospital in Dunedin. Photo: supplied

Courtney recounts how one boy brought his bunny rabbit. She showed him an x-ray and said it belonged to his toy. The boy protested that his rabbit’s ears were different to those in the x-ray!

Introducing Te Re Māori

The Dunedin Teddy Bear Hospital was introduced in 2011 and this year the Community Day included a room with Te Reo Māori speakers. About 20 children and 40 parents or care-givers came to this room.

Courtney says many Otago Medical School students understand Te Reo Māori, however are not always confident to speak it.

It is helpful for the local community to have Te Reo sessions and important for students as future health professionals to practise using the language.

Teddy’s turn: Otago medical students (from left) Courtney Sullivan, Alexandra Dempsey, Megan Lord, Savannah Adams, Maeli Prince and Kara Hamilton helped organise the Teddy Bear Hospital. Photo: Teddy Bear Hospital Dunedin

Another benefit is facilitating student understanding of Māori culture such as children arriving with several family members in support, or people having more fluid concepts of time. The sessions needed to be flexible enough to accomodate those who’d booked plus others who suddenly turned up en masse.

Courtney is of Ngāti Awa, Taranaki and Ngāti Maru descent. Before the Community Day, she met with medical students to ensure they knew words such as stethoscope, bandage and blood pressure cuffs.

Some words exist in Māori, others had to be created.

She says Te Reo Māori needs to be normalised, so children realise it isn’t only spoken at home, or in formal settings such as schools.

It’s a living, breathing language.”

She thinks encouraging medical students to speak the language will reap yet more benefits.

“If we’re able to relate to Māori, also perhaps that will impact on their health outcomes.”

The Te Reo consultations went “really well” and Courtney hopes these will become part of future Teddy Bear Hospitals.

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For further information:

Teddy Bear Hospital is part of a global project set up by the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA).


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