3D Printing Club uses skills for Christmas fun

December 18, 2020
A little girl paints flat Christmas tree ornaments with a medical student
College of Medicine student Bryce Kunkle paints ornaments with patient Olivia Moore. Photo by Molly Leff

Researchers and clinicians are figuring out new health care uses for 3D printing all the time. But this week, some 3D printing enthusiasts used their skills to bring crafty fun to patients at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion.

The newly established 3D Printing Club is open to students from all six colleges at the university. Members teamed up with the Pediatric Interest Group, for College of Medicine students, to bring 3D printed Christmas tree ornaments for decorating to children in the hospital.

Bryce Kunkle, co-president of the 3D Printing Club, said the kids seemed to enjoy painting the ornaments. So did the students.

“I painted a gingerbread man ornament, and it’s on the tree in my house now,” he said.

Kunkle, a third-year College of Medicine student, said he and Nick Baxter, a second-year medical student, came up with the idea for the club based on their undergraduate experiences at Clemson University as engineering majors.

They have a lot of ideas for the club, including developing a newsletter to highlight 3D printing advances, both on campus and in health care generally; providing a centralized listing of 3D printing research opportunities for students; partnering with student interest groups to create 3D models for educational purposes and to connect with patients – for example, by printing models for the Surgery Interest Group; and eventually being able to donate money from the nominal printing fee to use the library’s 3D printers.

The ornament project was the group’s first foray into partnering with other student groups, and Kunkle gave credit to fellow student Ansley Hirsch for coming up with the idea.

five medical students pose in the colorful play atrium in the children's hospital 
MUSC students Bryce Kunkle, Ansley Hirsch, Melanie Rubin, Elena Goldstein, and Nick Baxter show off their ornaments in the play area of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women's Pavilion. Not pictured: Merritt Headden. Photo provided 

Next, Kunkle looked online for existing plans to print ornaments but realized most of the plans wouldn’t be suitable for painting. Instead, he looked to Christmas cookie outlines and developed his own plans for three ornaments: gingerbread men, snowmen and Christmas trees.

The Pediatric Interest Group then worked with the Child Life Program to set up a visit to the children’s hospital.

Sally Hunt, a third-year medical student, is volunteer coordinator for the group, which is 70 students strong. Most years, the group keeps busy volunteering at activities on campus and in the community like reading with patients, working at the Sugar Free Fall Festival – an important event for patients with certain conditions like diabetes – and speaking to school groups about health and wellness.

This year, of course, the pandemic has curtailed most of these activities. However, the students were able to return to the children’s hospital in the fall for a circumscribed program of logistical support for patients playing virtual Bingo and for some one-on-one unstructured time with patients.

For this inaugural partnership event, the participating students spent about an hour each painting with one of six patients, who loved the opportunity to spend some special time just being merry.

About the Author

Leslie Cantu

Keywords: Education, Pediatrics