Adventure books, literary classics, inspire pediatric patients
UCLA third year Amanda Penichet combined her love for reading and her passion for children when she created the “Inspiration Station,” a library cart filled with adventure books, fairy tales and classic favorites she brings to young patients in the pediatrics unit at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.
In the two years since she launched the program, she’s learned that reading stories at the bedside – or simply talking about books with older children and teens – engages the imagination, takes their minds off their illnesses, and is an interactive activity everyone, including parents and siblings, can enjoy.
“Because Los Angeles is a multicultural city, I also made sure to include books in Spanish and other languages so that kids can relate to the characters and feel more comfortable when they’re in the hospital,” says Penichet, who is originally from Cuba and speaks several languages.
Growing book collection
To kick-start the program, Penichet raised $1,000, which she used to buy books, bookmark crafts and other book-related activities to engage patients. Since she allows the children to borrow – or sometimes even keep – their favorites, she’s replaced many of the most popular titles. The cart was initially stocked with approximately 50 books, but she estimates that she has purchased 150 more since she brought the cart to the first patient’s bedside.
“For the older kids and teens, I usually start by asking what their favorite book is and why, which opens the door to a conversation that’s sometimes about the book, but often just about something that’s on their minds, which is fine too,” Penichet says. “Since I’m around the same age as some of them, I can always find a topic they’re enthusiastic about and go from there.”
Penichet received a Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award, a highly selective recognition for outstanding student contribution and commitment to public service, in 2022. The award included a $1,000 grant she is using to restock and expand the cart’s offerings. She was also recently featured on KCBS/KCAL-TV’s series “People Making a Difference.”
“Books are part of everyday life for school-aged children, so reading and being read to provide normalcy and comfort in what otherwise can be an isolating and daunting environment,” said Laila Ramji, a child life specialist at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center. “But the Inspiration Station is much more than a library. Amanda is so engaging and warm that even the shiest and sickest patient is smiling after she visits.”
In her spare time, Amanda also works as a research assistant in a psychoneuroimmunology lab at UCLA. She hopes to eventually use the Inspiration Station as a vehicle to explore the potential benefits of reading on improving patient outcomes.
Penichet plans to go to medical school and become – you guessed it – a pediatrician. But she hopes she can continue bringing the Inspiration Station to hospital patients while she’s at UCLA, and perhaps recruit fellow literature lovers to join her efforts at UCLA Health or start similar carts at other hospitals.