Written By

Janine Lucas


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

1 September 2022

Related Study Areas

Creativity flows with Happy Healthy Teddies

Mackay-based JCU Medicine Student Mitee Parekh and her peers are working to inspire healthy habits in children across rural and remote Queensland.

Mitee has developed Happy Healthy Teddies, an open-source education session that fellow JCU medical students on rural clinical placements present to children in communities across Queensland.

The one-hour program is directed at improving rural health outcomes by encouraging healthy lifestyle practices among children aged 3 to 8. The Rural Doctors Foundation-supported initiative was inspired by the Teddy Bear Hospital program, developed by the Ashintosh Foundation and The University of Queensland.

“It’s very rewarding when the kids are engaged and learning, and we receive messages from educational staff saying the kids were singing the messages we taught them for the rest of the week,” she said.

child in scrubs with stethoscope
Child colouring in a skeleton picture
Children get creative while learning at Happy Healthy Teddies sessions run by JCU medical students on placement in rural and remote towns.

“The children have open minds and flowing imaginations and creativity. They whole-heartedly believe they can hear their teddy’s heart beating when listening with a stethoscope. Feedback from educational staff and teachers has shown that the program’s specific delivery style is integral in creating lasting healthy habits among the children.”

Mitee will present on Happy Healthy Teddies at the annual Rural Medicine Australia (RMA22) conference in Canberra in October. She hopes to inspire medical students and healthcare staff across Australia to bring similar engaging health education programs to their communities. “By sharing the program with other medical students and health professionals, I am hoping to inspire them to create similar programs within their local communities,” she said. “The program design and method of implementation is low-cost and is feasible for many medical education programs and health facilities to implement within their communities.”

JCU medical students offer the program at childcare centres, kindergartens and schools in their rural placement communities, running activity stations on topics such as exercise and cardiovascular health, sun safety, dental hygiene, visiting the doctor, healthy food choices and hand hygiene.

Mitee said the goal of Happy Healthy Teddies was to create awareness and encourage healthy lifestyle habits among rural children in an engaging manner. The program was hatched on Mitee’s second-year placement in Stanthorpe, where she gained the support of the hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Dan Halliday, as well as JCU’s Professor Tarun Sen Gupta. She successfully applied for a $5000 grant from the Rural Doctors Foundation and put together kits that JCU medical student volunteers could take with them on rural placement, including masks and gowns donated by Townsville Hospital and Health Service.

“Now, as I am looking forward to graduating from JCU this year and starting a new chapter of my medical training, I am working with Professor Sen Gupta and the JCU Clinical School to ensure the program keeps running,” she said. Mitee is working with JCU Medical Students’ Association (JCUMSA) and JCU's Rural Medicine team to integrate Happy Healthy Teddies into the rural medical placements as an optional activity from 2023 onwards.

Mitee leads a Happy Healthy Teddies session.

Inspiring future doctors to make lasting change

All JCU medical students do at least 20 weeks of rural placements during their degree as part of JCU’s commitment to building a fit-for-purpose health workforce for underserved communities in Queensland.

Prof Sen Gupta said Happy Healthy Teddies was a way students could serve their communities while on placement. “We talk a lot in the course about social accountability – serving your community after graduation,” he said. “Endeavours such as this are a way of students developing and demonstrating their social accountability while still at medical school. On these placements, students are developing not just their clinical skills but also their professional identity.  Giving back to the community that is hosting them is a wonderful initiative that reflects the mission and values of the university.”

Brisbane-raised Mitee, a John Flynn Scholar and aspiring physician, has done placements in Mackay, Emerald and Biloela. “Studying at JCU has provided me with the unique opportunity to complete placement at numerous rural locations across Queensland and learn about rural health care,” she said.

“Living in these communities whilst doing placement has helped me to recognise first-hand the issues rural and remote communities face in accessing quality healthcare, and this has guided my motivation and passion for the program and its future goals. I've always been interested in doing paediatrics as a future profession and so I think that's what also got me involved with working with the kids. I used to tutor mathematics so it's the same kind of principle, bringing larger concepts to them and explaining it in a way that kids will understand.”

Medical students sitting on classroom floor with students and teddies
Child playing with small skeleton model
Left: JCU medical student Mitee Parekh developed Happy Healthy Teddies as a version of the Teddy Bear Hospital program which could be easily delivered in rural and remote areas. Right: Medical student Pearl Aung helps out at a Happy Healthy Teddies session.

Children across the north get involved

Over the past three years, Mitee and her band of volunteers have brought the engaging health education program to children at childcare centres, kindergartens and schools in Atherton, Bowen, Charters Towers, Collinsville, Ingham, Innisfail, Mossman, Mount Isa, Proserpine, Sarina. Despite interruptions to the program during the COVID pandemic, students facilitated 21 sessions across 17 educational facilities in 10 rural locations.

Four interactive stations are chosen out of six deliverable stations to ensure the education is appropriate to the age group of the target audience. Happy Healthy Teddies introduces children to equipment they might see in doctors’ offices and familiarised them with day-to-day primary care interactions they might have with health professionals.

“The kids are so excited to have visitors. For them, it’s a change from their usual day-to-day activities and for the medical students, it’s an excellent opportunity to get involved in their local community.”

Mitee volunteered with JCUMSA for the Teddy Bear Hospital program in her first and second year of medicine and coordinated the program for JCUMSA in third year. “I made a few changes to the program, added two extra stations and increased the number of visits we do in the year. That was the year I came up with the idea of applying to the Rural Doctors Foundation for this grant. I used the core stations I had made that year for the JCUMSA Teddy Bear Hospital, and changed them a little bit to be more appropriate to be able to be put in kits and taken to the rural locations easily.”

Mitee said her goal was to get as many medical students or other healthcare students involved in the program as possible. “In the end, I want the program to run itself. The students who are volunteering will be able to call a childcare centre, introduce themselves, ask if they’re interested in the program and organise to came along and present a session."

JCU medical students interested in running a Happy Healthy Teddies session while on placement can contact JCUMSA from 2023.

Medical student with child holding teddy bear and toothbrush
Young woman in hat and sunglasses talking to children sitting on floor
Left: JCU medical student Akshaya Ajit teaches children about dental hygiene at a Happy Healthy Teddies session. Right: Erin Taylor talks about sun safety.

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