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Redefining the role of near-peer student volunteers in children’s hospitals as paediatric patient mentors
  1. Elaissa Trybus Hardy1,2,
  2. Wilbur A Lam1,2
  1. 1Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  2. 2Department of Pediatrics, Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Wilbur A Lam, Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA; wilbur.lam{at}

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At our children’s hospital, we have witnessed firsthand the unique value near-peer student volunteers (NPSV) bring to the care of our paediatric patients through social engagement and mentorship that is not typically fulfilled by standard caregiver and healthcare providers. Mediated by social interactions and supported by child development theory, meaningful engagement between NPSVs and paediatric patients can potentially change how we practise paediatric medicine. Accordingly, we present how the role of NPSVs in hospitals and clinics should be redefined and allow for more in-depth connections with paediatric patients.

We define a NPSV as 18–22 years old, has completed secondary/high school and is currently enrolled in a university programme (eg, medical school, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, etc). The adjacent age difference between paediatric patients and NPSVs removes any age overlap with that of a direct peer1 and allows for the natural and efficient establishment of rapport, respect and trust,2 enabling NPSVs to be an ideal demographic for paediatric patients.

The scientific literature supports our observations. Social learning theory emphasises the role of modelling and observational learning as important sources for cognitive development,3 whereas sociocultural theory and zone of proximal development state that social interactions with near peers help children learn how to complete complex tasks.4 Therefore, near-peer mentorship can alleviate the isolation from social interactions hospitalised paediatric patients experience while also positively impact healthy cognitive development.

The benefits of near-peer mentorship are well established in other educational settings. Medical schools have highlighted the positive benefits of near-peer teaching/mentoring resulting in positive social and cognitive congruence and positive …

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  • Contributors ETH and WAL conceptualised and designed the work, as well as cowrote, reviewed and revised the manuscript. This work stems from an educational outreach programme designed, developed and implemented by ETH and WAL where university students teach math and science to children with chronic illnesses using hands-on interactive activities created under the supervision of ETH. ETH interviewed the patient and her mother for their voice. The family asked to remain anonymous to protect their daughter’s privacy and are not included in the author list. They have read and approved the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work. WAL is the guarantor.

  • Funding This work was supported by funding from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation and internally the 1998 Society, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (R35HL145000), the National Center for Advanced Translational Science/NIH (3UL1TR002378) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) (1542174 and 1809566).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.