MARCH 2010

Bruin Buddies and participant in front of Welcome Wall. Front row (left to right): Angelica Zen, Giselle Fernandez (patient) and Jennifer Neeper. Back row (left to right): Brandon Ross and Katrina Lin

Innovative Program Gives Medical Students Head Start in Understanding Patients

An innovative program called Bruin Buddies, launched last spring through a partnership between the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Child Life / Child Development Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, gives some first- and second-year medical school students a head start on understanding how life-threatening illnesses affect the lives of patients and their families.


“Many pediatric inpatients have spent most of their lives facing lengthy and repeated hospitalizations due to their conditions, which often include cancer and diseases that require organ transplantation,” says attending pediatrician, Leslie Hamilton, M.D., medical director of the UCLA Medical Home Program for Kids. “The students interact frequently with medical personnel and can share important insights about how we can provide respectful, patient-centered care.”

The objectives of the program include strengthening the students’ abilities to communicate with pediatric families, helping students understand how social and developmental factors as well as family support, dynamics and culture influence the care of seriously ill children, developing students’ skills in demonstrating compassion and empathy toward patients and families and building trust. The buddies, who range in age from 10 to 18 years, are referred by Child Life specialists and matched based on the background and the experience of the students as well as the goals and interests of both the students and buddies. Twelve students and 12 buddies are participating in the first year of the program. To participate, students must apply and commit to the program for at least one year, for which they earn selective (required elective) credit. The students attend training sessions and seminars specifically designed to help them interact with the children.

“Social reintegration is a struggle when children are distanced from their peers and school settings,” says Amy Bullock, director of UCLA Health System’s Child Life / Child Development Program. “The program provides a means by which teen and adolescent patients experiencing or anticipating new social transitions may benefit from positive social interactions with role models.”

“I’ve really loved being a Bruin Bud,” states Angelica Zen, student coordinator. “This program has showed me that despite the hardships that these kids have to go through, they are so resilient and determined to have a positive outlook and to live life to its fullest. We can all learn something from them.”