Pediatrics Club Partners with Girl Scouts


November 6, 2019

Troop 57119 of Havertown helped medical and graduate students learn important communication and patient interaction skills.


Learning effective communication is especially important for medical students interested in pediatrics, whose patients may experience higher levels of fear and anxiety when visiting the doctor. But while standardized patients (SPs) can help hone those skills, a 2016 study in Advances in Simulation reported that finding and hiring qualified child SPs can be difficult. And, while many pediatric simulations rely on robots or computerized mannequins, research shows that students prefer working with real children, rather than their virtual counterparts.

To that end, PCOM’s Robert Berger, DO Pediatrics Society—comprised of doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), physician assistant (PA) and biomedical sciences students—has been working with Girl Scout Troop 57119 in Havertown, PA, to learn these critical communication and patient interaction skills.

At a recent event on the Philadelphia campus, the Berger Society hosted about 12 Girl Scouts for an afternoon of workshops and role-playing. The Scouts learned how to portray patients with common childhood complaints such as headache, asthma, stomach pain and being bullied, and PCOM students practiced answering questions to better understand the issue. The Scouts gave feedback at the end of their encounters, and parents and Girl Scout leaders were able to monitor all encounters.

Berger Society President Megan Hartwell (DO ’22) and Vice-President Elizabeth Keller (DO ’22) both said they hadn’t previously had much experience working with children in a medical setting, but found the event very helpful in that regard.

“My favorite thing about working with these girls was how they were so eager to learn,” said Ms. Hartwell. “Aside from being funny and entertaining, they asked numerous questions and provided excellent answers to our own questions. Even though we all had fun, we genuinely learned how to conduct medical interviews with children.”

“This was really valuable to the girls, because they learn how to talk to doctors about what’s bothering them, instead of relying on their parents to tell the doctor,” said Kristen Ziga, leader of Troop 57119. “It’s better for the 10-year-old to talk to the doctor directly—they can share details which are more accurate.”

In addition to the day’s simulation events, the Berger Society also recently helped Troop 57119 earn their First-Aid merit badges; the scouts made first-aid kits and learned to “Check, Call, Care”—check the scene and the person in distress; call 911; and care for the person until help arrives—in the event of an emergency.

“I really enjoy [the girls’] enthusiasm and their zest for life,” said Ms. Keller. “Kids have a knack for making things really fun and it is contagious.”

Erik Langenau, DO, associate professor, pediatrics and faculty liaison for the Berger Society, suggested the club work with the Scouts. Dr. Langenau has children who are both Boy and Girl Scouts, and works regularly with their troops. In addition, he and Peter Bidey, DO ’08, assistant professor and vice-chair, family medicine, along with DO students, routinely provide free physicals for boys from low-income families to attend Boy Scout Camp. In 2017, Dr. Langenau launched an Outdoor Medicine Rotation at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and returned to the site in 2019 with six PCOM students for the World Scout Jamboree.

“Throughout the Girl Scout program, the girls are introduced to a variety of health-related topics such as fitness, health, prevention, wellness and first-aid,” said Dr. Langenau. “It’s an exciting opportunity for girls who are interested in learning more about medical careers and interactions with health professionals, and we’re excited to help that interest grow.”

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Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations. For more information, visit pcom.edu.

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