Sick toys treated by bear doctors

The Maastricht MUMC+ hospital was faced with a peak in the number of patients at the end of March. More than 1100 young visitors came for a consultation, all with similar complaints: their stuffed toy had to be urgently diagnosed and treated. The bear doctors at the Teddy Bear Hospital (TBH) had their hands full.

For the 18th time, the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA) organised the Teddy Bear Hospital in Maastricht. “IFMSA Maastricht organises projects for and by students”, explains Danique Heuvelings, TBH president. “Around 145 students volunteered to be a bear doctor this year. In preparation for the Teddy Bear Hospital, a paediatrician came to describe what information the target group of 4- to 7-year-olds can understand. The Maastricht department has also made a special handbook on ‘How can I be a good bear doctor?’. In December, we send teaching materials to the schools that want to participate so that they can discuss the issue of ‘being sick’ with the children. There is a lot of interest: besides schools from Maastricht, schools from Valkenburg and Belgium are now also coming.”

Meyke Houben (tekst), Appie Derks (fotografie)


For the Teddy Bear Hospital, the terrace on the fourth floor of Maastricht UMC+ is divided into many consultation, treatment and operating rooms. Spread over three days, dozens of kindergarten classes come to visit. On Wednesday afternoon, the children of the MUMC+ staff can have their stuffed toys examined. “To return the favour for the cooperation we receive in organising this”, says Danique.

In their white coats, the bear doctors are ready to help all the stuffed toys get back on their feet—like the hippo of Joleijne (4). What is going on with the toy, the doctor wants to know. “I threw him in the air and now he is sick.” That requires a thorough investigation. Together with the bear doctor, Joleijne does an X-ray, after which she gives the hippo an injection to put him under anaesthesia so that he can be operated on. Joleijne, with a surgical cap and gown on, can apply the plasters. To be on the safe side, the paw of the toy also gets a plaster cast. It’s a meticulous job, which the 4-year-old watches closely. Then she gets a pill from the pharmacy and the treatment is finished. Because she has treated her hippo so well, the doctor hands Joleijne a ‘bear diploma’.

Eliminating fear

“The Teddy Bear Hospital introduces children to healthcare in a playful way”, says Danique. “I myself have never been afraid of the doctor, but many children are. We’re trying to basically eliminate that fear. Last year, there was a child with a colon infection. She saw how her toy was ‘treated’, which reduced her own anxiety. In fact, she was the one who reassured her mother by saying that ‘bear also got better’.”

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