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Injecting creativity into cardiology: Edmonton student fuses passions for educational toys

University of Alberta student is simultaneously studying industrial design while completing her surgical residency.

Michiko Maruyama is combining her design degree and surgical residency to create innovative toys to teach kids about medical procedures.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Michiko Maruyama is combining her design degree and surgical residency to create innovative toys to teach kids about medical procedures.

Industrial design and medicine may seem worlds apart, but one University of Alberta student is toying with the two to teach kids about medical procedures.

Michiko Maruyama is teaching children about hospital procedures with toys she designs.

“Children learn through play,” said Maruyama, a University of Alberta student studying both medicine and design. “I started to use industrial design within medicine to educate children on different things they experience in the hospital.”

She’s developing both paper and plush toys for her masters in industrial design while also completing her surgical residency at the Mazankowski Heart Institute in Edmonton.

This educational combination is a first for the University of Alberta.

“At first when I proposed the idea to the cardiac surgery program, I wasn’t sure what they’d think of it. But they’re very supportive and very encouraging. They’re open to creativity and innovation.“

Maruyama can't help but bring creativity to her academics as she started off as an industrial designer.

“I was an industrial designer before studying medicine. My area of interest at that time was toy design,” Maruyama said. “Going into medicine I always wanted to integrate art and design into my career as a physician.”

Maruyama first started designing health-related toys during her time as a medical student in British Columbia back in 2012. While in her second year of medical school, she saw how challenging it could be to reassure younger patients about their procedures.

Michiko Maruyama says her ultimate dream is to combine art, design and medicine into her career.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Michiko Maruyama says her ultimate dream is to combine art, design and medicine into her career.

This prompted her to create a teddy bear called the Ostomy Doll. The stuffed animal comes apart, allowing children to see internal anatomy and how feeding tubes work. 

“Essentially, it’s a creative educational medical resource,” Maruyama said. “For adults, we often read pamphlets or books with a whole bunch of text in it. But for children that’s not how they learn. By developing that teddy bear, (kids) playing with it start to understand their anatomy. ”

The stuffed animals are still in use at the B.C. Children’s Hospital.

Now at the U of A, Maruyama is working on prototypes for children cardiac patients to learn about their heart conditions. The series of toys is being funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Alberta Medical Association.

She’s developing a series of toys, both plush and paper-based, for various common heart conditions and procedures. She hopes to have the prototypes in the children’s ward and have kids interacting with them by Fall 2017.  

But Maruyama points out that the toys aren’t just for the patients, they are also helpful for “parents and siblings of the child. It develops understanding what their brother or sister was going through.”

The cardiac educational toys are Maruyama’s thesis project, for her Industrial Design Masters, which she’ll complete in 2018. She’ll continue her medical education on into 2021.

However Maruyama doesn’t see her mixing of medicine, art and design stopping at graduation.

“No matter where I end up, I will always be looking at patient education and developing different resources for the different patient populations. My dream would be to integrate art, design and medicine throughout my career. ”

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