How do you get elementary kids interested in health care? Play-Doh and fake blood | St. Louis Public Radio

How do you get elementary kids interested in health care? Play-Doh and fake blood

Apr 9, 2018

Splinters and paper cuts? No. Broken bones? Yes, that’s more worthy of a trip to the hospital. So goes a first-aid lesson for a first-grader.

Treating bumps and scrapes is the first lesson of Little Medical School, a St. Louis County-based company that introduces young learners to health and science.

“I really want them to know that if their friend falls on the playground, they know they gotta put pressure on that, because that’s going to stop the bleeding,” said Heather Nickel, an instructor with Little Medical School.

They won’t be physicians by the fifth grade, but the company hopes students will have a foundation in the subject and be inspired to pursue careers in health care.

Nickel is using a classroom at Rockwood School District’s Stanton Elementary for her medical school. A handful of students are staying after school for the six-week program. Little Medical School works in several school districts in the region.

The lessons are hands on. This week’s subject is the brain, so out comes the Play-Doh. Students pull, squish, flatten and roll the doh into cerebral models.

Caitlyn Kalmer shows off her finished brain model. The 7-year-old Stanton Elementary student is enrolled in the Little Medical School, an after-school program.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

“I learned that there is a lot of parts to the brain, and if you hit something, you might lose it,” said 7-year-old Caitlyn Kalmer.

Nickel encourages the kids to protect their brains by wearing a bike helmet. The lesson doesn’t seem to apply to their models. By the end of class, they’ve been smushed and squished beyond recognition.

“They see those things, and they can start to see how the physiology works,” she said. “They’re using their hands, and they dive into that and take it with them and remember those things.”

Little Medical School started in Creve Coeur in 1999, first by teaching medical-school residents how to talk with children about health problems. It began working in schools a decade ago and franchised to 40 other cities and three countries. It also sells home lesson kits online.

Health-care industry-watchers predict a shortage of skilled health workers will worsen through the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of fastest-growing jobs is filled with health professions such as home health aide and physical therapy assistant.

“At the end, we’re going to talk about professions. And not everyone has to be a doctor that sees patients,” said Nickel. “There’s a whole world out there in health care. That’s what I hope they walk away with.”

Aaranya Daml, 8, said she wants to do the same thing as her mom: a medical-science liaison.

“My mom says she talks to doctors about better ways to treat patients,” she said.

Not all the students in the class want to work in health care, but admit the knowledge will still be helpful.

“If you learn about it when you’re a kid right now, you might have a memory. So if you remember it now, you won’t have to remember it when you’re older,” said Akshar Patel, who’s 9.

At the end of the six-week program, the students will earn their white coats, just like real doctors.

Aarvi Patel, a Stanton Elementary School student, wears a brain hat during a lesson on the brain during Little Medical School.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

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