Ask any pediatric resident how much free time she has, and you are likely to get that look. Free time? Really? Between rounds, classes, meetings and clinical rotations, finding free time is tough. And using that extra time to volunteer in the community? Even tougher.

Still, no one was surprised when residents at Cincinnati Children’s started asking for more volunteer opportunities.

“Our residents chose pediatrics for a reason,” says Ndidi Unaka, MD, an associate program director in the Residency Program. “They have a heart to serve others. It’s why they went into this profession in the first place.”

Cincinnati Children’s has an advocacy rotation for all first-year residents. But many residents wanted more, so Unaka took on the role of linking them with opportunities for greater involvement.

One such opportunity is led by second-year resident Gregg Kottyan, MD. The TEAM (Teach, Educate, Advocate, Mentor) program enables residents to give monthly talks to students at Rockdale Academy and South Avondale Elementary schools. Once each month, residents talk with several classes at each school.

“We work with the schools to come up with topics they are interested in,” Kottyan says. “Topics have ranged from healthy eating and physical activity to ‘good touch / bad touch’ and careers.”

Kottyan, who is in the pediatric primary care track, says the talks are well received by teachers and students alike.

“Some grades can be a tougher audience than others, but most are really attentive and ask great questions,” he says. He says residents find the program “very rewarding,” and good preparation for their chosen careers.

“For pediatricians – especially those who go into primary care – most of your job is education. Getting used to talking with kids and parents really helps you prepare for that.”

Unaka adds that residents’ volunteer activities, particularly with children and families in underserved communities, are valuable no matter what their specialty.

“All of our residents will be doing some sort of advocacy in their career, no matter if they choose to be a general pediatrician or a specialist,” she says. “It’s something every pediatrician needs to be well-versed in.”