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Patients find new “friends” in virtual connections with students

There’s nothing like a friendly chat to brighten someone’s day — and ease anxiety or stress.

That’s the thought behind Phone-A-Friend, a program run by Center Stage Arts in Health that connects Hershey Medical Center patients with Penn State College of Medicine students for virtual visits.

“It was great to have this personal interaction,” said patient Maurice Brown of Harrisburg after chatting with Rahul Gupta, a fourth-year medical student, from his room. “Rahul was really easy to talk with and personable.”

The idea for Phone-A-Friend originated with College of Medicine students who saw a need and wanted to fill it. Center Stage Arts in Health and floor nurses worked with the students on the logistics.

“What do people do in times of stress? Gather together,” said Clair de Boer, founder of Center Stage, which provides arts programming to nourish well-being throughout Hershey Medical Center and the College of Medicine community. “We really value human, in-person connection, but that’s very limited now, so we have to adapt and do things virtually.”

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