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Medical students are helping Prince George kids overcome a fear of the doctor

Prince George Reading Bear Society works to introduce children to healthcare practices
Volunteer Ella Wedel, co-chairs Carmen Huang and Crystal McLeod pose with Dr. Bear who helps kids feel more comfortable at the doctor’s office.

Medical students in Prince George are helping young children become more comfortable with doctors through the Reading Bear Society.

The society is a non-profit focused on early childhood literacy and health education and is based out of Vancouver.

A first-year medical student, Crystal McLeod, at the Northern Medical program and her co-chair Carmon Huang are now running the Prince George chapter.

It started in 2020 at the height of the pandemic but the society is gaining momentum now that it's doing in-person visits again this year.

“The idea is that if they go to the doctor, they're hopefully less scared, or worried about getting medical treatments,” explained McLeod.

They do a one-hour visit with Kindergarten to Grade 1 students with Dr. Bear and have been blown away by the demand and interest for these visits.

The group has 20 visits for this coming winter planned in classrooms and will be reaching over 300 children in Prince George.

“We read a story together about a doctor bear who runs his clinic and he sees four patients and then the kids get to go through four stations that simulate each of the four patients coming in,” explained McLeod.

The medical students use the teddy bears to demonstrate procedures that children might experience at a doctor’s office, such as a checkup, a vaccination, or listening to their heartbeat.

“They tend to really love it and enjoy it,” said McLeod, a nurse from Ontario who has worked in pediatric ICU, but is now pursuing her medical degree in Prince George.

She says these visits have taken on a new meaning for her, as they not only familiarize kids with basic medical practices, but also introduce children to the medical field as a career possibility.

McLeod said she wants to shed a light on how medicine is possible for any person, accessible as a service or a career, to any child in northern B.C.

“I grew up in a rural community and didn't have any doctors in my family or even in our area. I really am hoping by doing it in Prince George and hopefully we can expand to the surrounding areas, that we get kids exposed to a healthcare career that they might not have considered otherwise.”

While the program is currently focused on young children between the ages of five and six, McLeod said she is hoping it can expand into other programs that UNBC offers for older kids in future.

“So, they get repeat exposure to health care professional work and jobs.”

She noted the program is also an excellent opportunity for medical students to gain experience working with children and could also hopefully inspire medical students to pursue a career in pediatrics.

“I know some people are interested in becoming pediatricians, or even just a family doctor that specializes in children, and this is very important in Prince George, in my opinion, because B.C .has a provincial shortage of pediatricians,” said McLeod.

“We tend to feel that more acutely in rural and remote areas. So again, by offering those experiences up here in Prince George, where medical students interact with children and get interested in pediatrics, I'm hoping that results in long term better pediatric care as well.”

McLeod said she’s also applied for funding to try to expand the program to rural areas outside of Prince George.

“We've already had requests from places like Valemount and I would love to be able to reach out even further,” said McLeod.

“I grew up in a very rural community, very small like 1,000 people and I would have loved to have this experience growing up, but I think it’ll be good if we can go farther and farther with it.”

You can find out more about the Reading Bear Society through its website, where you can also contact and request a visit from the Prince George Chapter.