As medical students, we often fall into a routine of learning in a certain way, probably as a result of classroom-based learning during our first two years. It’s not very often that we students have the opportunity to expand our newly attained scientific knowledge into the context of the human experience. However, a group of us in the Mayo Pediatrics Interest Group did so in February and August last year during a Sibshops event, organized by Mayo Clinic Child Life specialists. The event, held at a local family fun and athletic center, was targeted toward a population that often doesn't receive the spotlight: the brave siblings of kids with special needs.
Following an Olympics theme, the February event began with group bonding by decorating a team flag and fleece scarves that corresponded to our team colors. The exciting and engaging day was filled with activities including mini-golf, jumping on inflatables, Minute-to-Win-It, and completing a capture-the-flag course. All games incorporated teamwork challenges, reflection opportunities, and Q&A sessions related to being a sibling of a child with a disability. Recognizing the challenges that a child with disabilities may bring to a family, we hoped to provide a safe, open environment for the siblings to discuss the challenges they faced and explore potential solutions. Above all, we sought to do this in an empathetic and understanding manner to create an environment that is not always possible—but is very much deserved—in busy households. To the surprise of the volunteers, the children were able to take initiative in brainstorming their own creative solutions related to avoiding bullying, managing conflict, and gaining communication skills with other children who were facing similar challenges. While most of the medical students who participated have an interest in pediatrics, students interested in other specialties were also involved. By serving as team leaders, photographers, and activity station leaders, we were able to engage in almost every aspect of the day’s activities.
More recently, our Pediatrics Interest Group also participated in the Summer Sibshops event. After meeting at a local movie theater to be assigned to their movie title groups (Despicable Me, Lego Movie, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games), the kids and volunteers took a trolley to Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch, where they were welcomed with “paparazzi” and a Red Carpet Party. Through participating in activities such as the Hollywood Stunt School (zip line), Photo Shoot (photo booth with props), and the Hollywood Walk of Fame (canvases decorated with the kids’ hand prints and autographs), these kids had the chance to be the stars of the show, at least for one day.
As eager-to-learn medical students, we were thankful to have the opportunity to develop empathy for the challenges of pediatric illness and disability that are not only experienced by the patient, but also by the family. Additionally, our unique role as medical students allowed us to bridge the gap between patients, their support systems, and providers by serving as student and peer-like role models for the siblings.
Earth, a second year medical student, is the president of the Pediatrics Interest Group at Mayo Medical School. He is interested in pediatrics, specifically in the areas of intensive care, infectious disease, and psychiatry. He is originally from Orange County, California and enjoys cooking, watching Netflix, and petting kittens.