Syracuse’s Museum of Science and Technology is installing an interactive diabetes display created by Upstate medical students.
The display is designed to educate children and their caregivers. It came about after Chris Botash, who will graduate from Upstate’s College of Medicine in May, volunteered at a camp for children with diabetes the summer after his first year in medical school.
In addition to learning about the physical management of diabetes, Chris said his time at Camp Aspire (near Rochester) gave him a completely new perspective on the psychosocial implications of growing up with diabetes.
The campers, ages 8 to 17, shared experiences that illustrated misconceptions and misunderstandings about the disease. One teen’s exam proctor tried to take away her insulin pump because he thought it was a cell phone; a young boy was given carrots at a friend’s birthday party, while other children were given cupcakes.
“Much of medical school is focused on establishing the doctor-patient relationship … but once that patient walks out the door, that’s where our first-hand experience ends,” Chris said. “Camp Aspire provided me with the opportunity to follow that patient out the door and see some of what it is like to live with diabetes day-to-day. Children with diabetes face many challenges — some of which arise from confusion about diabetes amongst their peers and in their communities.”
When he returned to campus that August as a board member of Upstate’s Endocrinology Club, Chris started thinking of ways to raise awareness about diabetes among children and their caregivers.
He thought of the MOST, where he had worked on the education staff during high school and college.
“Thousands of school children pass through the MOST’s doors every year, and these kids learn a lot from interacting with exhibits targeted toward their age,” Chris said. “The idea for a diabetes education exhibit was born. I pitched the idea to my club’s executive board, and was excited to receive their support. I have a background in public health (my undergraduate major at the University of Rochester), but I had never attempted a project like this before.”
It turned into a group effort with input and financial support from throughout the Upstate community; about 30 people had a hand in its creation.
Upstate diabetes specialists and medical students from the Endocrinology Club provided the content, which includes a “Myth vs. Fact” game, information on blood glucose monitoring and insulin administration, comparison of Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes, and examples of carbohydrate counting.
Emily Commesso, a third-year medical student and former president of the Endocrinology Club, coordinated the project along with Chris.
“In the process of creating the display we had one of the children within the community and a Camp Aspire camper and family take a look at the display and offer comments before creating the final form,” Emily said. “The display was revealed at Camp Aspire this past year and was met with great reviews.”
A portable version of the display has also been created, and recently was on exhibit at the Joslin Diabetes Center. The Endocrinology Club may try to showcase the mobile display at community events, libraries and other locations.
While the displays will directly benefit people in the community, they’ll also help medical students.
“It is important to understand difficulties that our patients face, and how we can promote education of the diseases that our patients face and the impact on their lives,” Emily said. “Translating medical knowledge into patient-friendly language and making it understandable to children is a challenge. Creating this display has certainly brought this to light and the process we went through will make us better physicians.”