Teddy Bear Hospital visits VAHS

Teddy bears helped break down barriers and pass on important health lifestyle messages to children and families at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS).

L to R: Shawana Andrews, Sian Andrews, Margaret Davidson (Women's and Children's Program Team Leader from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service), Maya Andrews, Dr Ngaree Blow and Amail Andrews

The Teddy Bear Hospital is a regular community engagement program at MDHS that involves volunteer students from across the Faculty.

The aim is to familiarise children and their families with a healthcare setting and to overcome any fears they may have about visiting a hospital or health professional through the non-threatening situation of giving a child’s teddy bear a ‘health check’.

For the first time, in October 2018 the Teddy Bear Hospital joined forces with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS). Over 40 MDHS students presented around 45 Indigenous pre- schoolers with teddy bears. The children, with their families and carers, went to the dental clinic, met teddy doctors in the consulting rooms, and had eye checks in the optometry rooms.

During the event, Professor Paul Monagle and Linda Browne from the Melbourne Medical School supported the students.

“For students, the Teddy Bear Hospital is a great way of teaching multi- disciplinary collaboration and real world communication skills. With this particular event with VAHS, there was a great opportunity for students to understand the issues associated with Aboriginal health,” says Professor Monagle.

“For the children and their families, VAHS felt this was a good model for them to say, ‘This is a good way of doing healthcare and it’s not that scary’. It encourages children and families to experience healthcare in a non-threatening and fun way. That’s important because the more relaxed children are around us, and the more they are willing to talk to us, the more we can help them.

“Many Aboriginal families have been disenfranchised by western healthcare models because of their experiences in the past. Reinforcing that this was a community-controlled health service, and we were there in a non-threatening way was an important message.”

Before the event, students attended a cultural safety training program run by University of Melbourne Indigenous health academics, Shawana Andrews and Dr Ngaree Blow.

“The cultural safety program covered the background of Aboriginal health in Australia, the role of a community- controlled health service and what to consider when dealing with people who come from culturally diverse backgrounds, specifically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” says Professor Monagle.

The Teddy Bear Hospital was a success for everyone involved and opportunities will be explored to repeat the program with VAHS and with other Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations around Victoria.

“VAHS told us that parents felt it was a positive event and that it increased the parents’ view of the supportive nature of the community available for them at VAHS. We are indebted to VAHS’s support, in particular Margie Davidson, coordinator of the maternal and child health program, who fed back that this was one of the best health education activities they’d ever run for their children.”

Indigenous Development Publication

The Sharing Knowledge and Future Leaders – Indigenous Development publication outlines our Faculty's efforts to make a sustained contribution to better health, education and living standards for Indigenous Australians.