Background PALS is a student-initiated program at the UC Irvine School of Medicine that fosters relationships with pediatric patients and their families during the first 2 years of medical school. It provides insight into the patients' perspective of the clinical experience and encourages empathy for future patient care.
Hypothesis A mentorship relationship between medical students and pediatric patients is beneficial to the medical student and the special needs child and family.
Methods Ten first-year medical students were selected to participate in the program based on their experience with children and commitment to community service. The pediatric patients chosen for PALS were initially screened and referred by the child life director. They ranged from 6 to 16 years of age, and illnesses consisted of hematologic, oncologic, renal, and neuromuscular disorders. Each medical student was paired with a pediatric patient as a mentor. Intermittently throughout the program, surveys were given to the medical student, pediatric patient, and family. The medical students are given a survey at the beginning and end of the program to assess their change and development due to the program. Students are also given a survey to complete at the end of their pediatric clerkship in their third year to reassess these attitudes. The patients and their families are given a survey to complete at the end of the 2-year program to assess the benefit the child received from the program.
Results From the study (n = 8), medical students reported the following: 100% reported improved understanding of the effects on chronic illness, 100% reported a beneficial relationship with the child, 75% reported a greater interest in pediatrics, and 50% reported a positive relationship with the family. Patients and their families (n = 6) reported the following: 100% reported their child benefiting from the program, 67% reported positive changes in behavior attributed to PALS at UCI, 100% reported that they would recommend the PALS program to other families, and 100% reported that they would continue participation in PALS at UC Irvine.
Conclusion Currently, medical students are introduced to the program at the beginning of the first year. Interested students are solicited to apply for the program. Approximately 15 medical students are accepted each year. PALS at UC Irvine is a 2-year program with 30 student/patient pairs. Overall, patients, their families and medical students report having a valuable experience as a part of their involvement with the PALS program.
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