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As medical students, it seems as though our to-do list is never ending. Especially during our first year, it can sometimes be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I now understand why all of the faculty and senior medical students at the Medical School constantly remind us to take time for ourselves and find ways that help us relieve stress. This looks different for all of my classmates. For me, when studying seems a little overwhelming and life is stressful, I head over to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Although Mott is only a short walk from the medical school, it affords me the opportunity to leave behind the demands of my coursework and spend time with pediatric patients through the MedBuddies program. MedBuddies is a volunteer program through the University of Michigan Medical School and University of Michigan School of Nursing that pairs a student at those schools with a patient at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. This program is unique from your typical hospital volunteer program because it pairs children who have prolonged or intermittent hospitalizations with a volunteer buddy who will be with them throughout their hospitalizations. This pairing helps buddies and patients form close and meaningful relationships since we spend 3-6 hours a week together while our buddy is admitted.

I have worked with pediatric patients and their families for more than a decade, and I feel so fortunate to still have that opportunity while a pre-clinical student here at UMMS. Hospitalization can be incredibly disruptive and isolating for anyone, and in my experience this is most acutely seen in children. During their hospitalization, children often feel a lack of control and can be stressed or scared by the unpredictable and unfamiliar hospital environment. Equally as important, hospitalized children miss out on friends, school and playtime that is so critical for their development. I have seen how hospital volunteers can play a role in creating a sense of normalcy for hospitalized children and their families.

Personally, MedBuddies affords me the opportunity to step away from my white coat and stethoscope, and spend time with patients in a non-medical role. I get a glimpse into what their lives are like when the health care team isn’t there, and bear witness into how they live with their illness day to day. Best of all, I get to leave behind my stress and to-do list for a few hours and cuddle babies or play with a child. Even though the MedBuddies program is not a part of our curriculum, to me this program is just as important to my development as a physician as the organ sequences or Doctoring course. Getting to know these children and their families outside of a medical role is helping me grow into a more empathetic and compassionate physician. The children I have met through the MedBuddies program have enriched my life, and I feel privileged to be a part of theirs.