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Caring for the Children of the Caregivers

September 23, 2022
by Crystal Gwizdala and Melanie Luna

It’s a challenge parents faced even before the pandemic: childcare.

Snigdha Jain, MD, MHS, instructor in the Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, and her husband both work as clinicians and researchers. They came to Yale in July 2020 with their 2-year-old daughter – a time when many childcare centers were closed due to the newness and uncertainties of COVID-19. Fortunately, the Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center remained open for them throughout the pandemic.

Bodel is a nonprofit conceived by women faculty and postdoctoral fellows at Yale School of Medicine to provide on-site care for children of women in medicine. It was named in honor of Dr. Phyllis Bodel, a mother of three and the first director of Women in Medicine at Yale. The program began in 1979 with seven families. Now, 120 children from 111 families are enrolled. Bodel’s program cares for children ranging from six weeks of age through pre-kindergarten.

“There was this community that was very cognizant of the health risks of COVID and yet was acknowledging the importance of staying open,” says Jain. She calls Bodel’s COVID-19 guidelines “flexible, appropriate, and pragmatic.” While Jain was unable to tour Bodel before placing her daughter in their care, she was relieved by the steady stream of communication.

“They made us feel really comfortable about where our child was despite us not seeing her,” says Jain. “... When I’m heading into a shift in the ICU, as a mother and a clinician, part of my brain is still with my children. To feel completely at peace to the point where I don’t worry about my child during my workday, that’s the biggest accomplishment a childcare center can boast of.”

Not long after enrolling her daughter in Bodel, Jain joined the COVID-19 subcommittee, which continues to engage the community in making safe decisions. In 2021, Jain joined Bodel’s board of directors as president. “My experience has been amazing on this team,” says Jain. “Not all members are parents, but they were all so deeply influenced and happy about their experience with the center that they decided to keep devoting their time to it.”

More Than a Daycare

Bodel strives to curate unique programming for each child. Activities target all areas of development: physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. “Early childhood is such a unique age, and I really think the kind of environment they’ve created empowers teachers to look beyond being a daycare,” says Jain. “They call themselves a childcare center and I do think that in the true sense of the word, they are, because they try to take care of the child very holistically.”

Children do a variety of activities throughout the day, indoors and outdoors. For example, they may learn pattern recognition, tend a worm farm, release butterflies, create artwork, or write mad libs, poems, and songs as a group.

Dennis Shung, MD, PhD, MHS, assistant professor of medicine (digestive diseases) and Stephanie Ng, MD, a practicing psychiatrist, take their two children to Bodel. While Shung and Ng work, their children enjoy singing and dancing. “They have fun there, and they bring that fun home,” says Shung. “Our house is decorated to the gills with all the art they’ve generated. That sort of thing is really quite precious to us.”

This childcare center is the reason I am able to be successful in my career. Usually you have to choose between a family or a career, but with Bodel you can juggle both.

Dennis Shung, MD, PhD, MHS

Shung and Ng appreciate that Bodel strives for siblings to have the same teachers. The ratio of students to teachers is 3:1 for infants and toddlers and 5:1 for three-to-five-year-olds. “The teachers are fantastic,” says Shung. “They really do care about not just watching the kids and making sure they don’t get into a mess, but building into them and giving them a rich and interactive environment in which they can grow.”

“Our kids have loved every classroom they’ve been in,” says Patricia Peter, MD, assistant professor of medicine (endocrinology). She and her husband Henry Park, MD, MPH, associate professor of therapeutic radiology, placed each of their children at Bodel at three months old. “Their affection for their teachers and classmates has always been very clear.”

Peter and Park have been pleased with their children’s development since they started at Bodel. “They often try to teach us how to parent by explaining how their teachers deal with difficult situations,” says Park. Peter laughed. After graduating from Bodel, their older child told them, “When I have a child, I want to take them to Phyllis Bodel.”

Convenient Childcare at Yale

Besides providing exceptional childcare, Bodel has two major perks that set it apart: location and hours. The Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center is located within the Yale School of Medicine campus at 367 Cedar St., open from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

“This childcare center is the reason I am able to be successful in my career,” says Shung, citing the easy dropoff process, location close to his work, and good hours. “Usually you have to choose between a family or a career, but with Bodel you can juggle both.”

Park and Peter also agree that Bodel’s support has been critical. “It feels like a key aspect of the university’s mission to support young faculty and staff who do have young children through this process that’s already inherently very challenging,” says Park. “Accessible childcare is so essential for the diversity, well-being, and retention of Yale’s healthcare providers and biomedical researchers.”

Bodel strives to be financially accessible, too. The center is primarily funded by tuition but seeks out grants for additional support. For single parents, post-doctorates, or those most in need of financial assistance, Bodel offers scholarships to subsidize tuition. Currently, 10 scholarships are offered annually, but they are working to expand that number.

Submitted by Robert Forman on September 23, 2022