Celebrating 12 years of the “Brain Waves” program run by uOttawa MD students
Medical students don’t just tell kids helmets are important, they visit local schools to show them.
Most parents will agree that it’s not always easy convincing kids to wear a bike or sports helmet—a frustrating challenge considering this added layer of protection is proven to prevent serious brain injuries.
That’s why for over a decade, uOttawa MD students have been visiting local public schools each spring to help in these efforts; but rather than telling kids why it’s important to wear a helmet, they show them.
These MD students make brain molds out of cherry-flavoured Jell-O to demonstrate the fragility of the brain and the importance of protecting it. They also present interactive slides and conduct proper helmet fittings.
This grassroots volunteering initiative began over 12 years ago under the leadership of Dr. Michael Vassilyadi, a CHEO neurosurgeon and Director for ThinkFirst Ottawa, which is a chapter of Parachute Canada, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preventing injuries and saving lives.
“When I first came to CHEO as a pediatric neurosurgeon almost 23 years ago, I saw a lot of head injuries, especially in young children. Ambulances were bringing these patients to CHEO where we had to operate once every two to three weeks. There were minor head injuries admitted every day and a major head injury almost once a week,” explains Dr. Vassilyadi, who is an Associate Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at uOttawa and Director of the Concussion Research Project Clinic at CHEO.
“As a result of seeing this happen, I began to think about how I could prevent these situations and that’s how I got involved with injury prevention and advocacy through ThinkFirst Ottawa 16 years ago,” he adds. “At first I had a small group of volunteers from my own family and the community going to schools to give talks, and soon afterwards my students wanted to get involved.”
Supported by ThinkFirst Ottawa and Parachute Canada, this initiative is now called “Brain Waves” and has flourished into an official volunteering placement listed under the uOttawa MD curriculum’s Community-Based Learning (CBL) requirement. It encompasses an English stream and a French stream to accommodate Anglophone and Francophone students and include French-speaking classrooms.
In 2018, 13 Anglophone students and five Francophone students from the uOttawa MD program participated in “Brain Waves.” They visited 12 Ottawa elementary schools and a total of 23 classrooms.
Since the program began, a total of 654 uOttawa medical students have volunteered for “Brain Waves” (previously known as “Brain Week”), delivering it’s health injury prevention message to more than 10,000 elementary school students.
“Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in head injuries, especially ones that require surgery,” says Dr. Vassilyadi, who strongly believes in the impact of advocacy and education on the community. “A helmet is the best investment for the brain.”
If you’re interested to learn more about this program and its impact on the community, uOttawa MD student, Henry Liu has published a research report “Evaluation of a Community-based Concussion Prevention and Advocacy Program at the University of Ottawa” in the uOttawa Journal of Medicine.
As a part of the “Brain Waves” program with ThinkFirst Ottawa of Parachute Canada, uOttawa MD students visit local elementary schools each Spring to show kids that wearing a helmet prevents brain injury.
uOttawa MD students visit Ottawa elementary school classrooms to show kids the importance of wearing a bike or sports helmet.