When I was a young girl I loved reading Berenstein Bear books with my parents before bedtime. The beautiful illustrations, the stories, always entertained me. I imagined that sister bear was one of my friends; she reminded me of any of the young girls that were in elementary school with me at that time. What were so amazing about those books and others of that time, is embedded in the world of storytelling were invaluable lessons about life from the perspective of children. Even now, as my young children have grown up, I find myself reaching for a Berenstein Bear book to help explain a life lesson on their level. Some of my favorite books in the series are Berenstein Bears, “Visit the Dentist” or “Go to the Doctor.” These books gently introduce kids to the sometimes scary world of medicine.
During my time as an outpatient pediatrician, I remember the many apprehensive stares, the eyes welling with tears, the outright cries of children in the office. Children across the board experience anxiety and real fear to this day as they approach doctor visits. Think about it, how many times we hear parents say “You better be good, or the doctor will give you a shot.” Adults create fear with our words. We amplify fear sometimes unintentionally by not taking the time to slow down, make our patients comfortable, and explain what is happening. We do great work when we vaccinate and auscultate, but what we must always remember is to address this very real anxiety.
Every generation has it’s ambassadors to medicine. For me, it was the Berenstein Bears who taught lessons about life. For others books by Dora, Daniel Tiger, Mr. Rodgers, and Sesame Street, all gave voice to children fears and soothed them. When Doc McStuffins arrived on the scene a new generation of children had yet another ambassador to health. The coolest part about Doc McStuffins was not only did she understand the scary adult world of medicine; she also had the skills to heal her own toys. She was a doctor.
Doc McStuffins became a friend to children, someone they emulated, and helped them understand the scary world of medicine. Her character also helped children dream big to become a physician.
In the fall of 2013, along with many other African American female physicians across the country, I participated in the Doc McStuffins Disney “So Much You Can Do to Take Care of You” Disney Mobile tour. This was a huge undertaking by Disney to bring the character and experience to major cities across the country—for free. What was most incredible about the experience is that the partnership with Artemis Medical Society, an organization of thousands of African American Female Physicians across the nation. Our participation allowed the cartoon experience to be a bridge to sharing the profession of medicine with young girls and boys of all nationalities and demographics. Instead of the usual fear that may be encountered in the office, children approached us with awe, even excitement. I cannot recall how many times I heard “Look mom, it’s the REAL Doc McStuffins”.
Five years later the legacy of this impactful character created by Disney continues on. While I still encounter children that are scared when I examine them. Sometimes they are holding the Doc McStuffins dolls. I will regularly overhear a relative or parents say, “She’s just like your friend Doc McStuffins.” Other times we sing the song “gonna check your eyes, check your ears…”
Doc McStuffins has become a prominent and adored figure in the lives of children everywhere. I love the concept of diversity in medicine that Doc McStuffins brings to the early consciousness of small children; all of us can be physicians. Additionally this character is a beacon of hope for kids. She reminds us all that doctors are here to help, isn’t that what Doc does every day? So when someone refers to me as “The Real Doc McStuffins” I take that as a compliment and smile.
Dr. Bande Virgil is a pediatric hospitalist and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics. Her passions are two fold, helping parents be better equipped to raise children in the new millenium. Secondly, to encourage physicians and those in training to live balanced productive personal and clinical lives. She is a co-author of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats.” Follow her on Instagram @themommydoc1.