Dr. Letitia Bradford’s son Kai, like many 6-year-old boys, is usually enticed by Nerf guns and video games. But last Christmas, to Bradford’s surprise, he asked for a pink and purple “Doc McStuffins” medical kit so he could listen to mom’s heartbeat.
Kai is one of millions of 2- to 7-year-olds who have been drawn into the world of “Doc McStuffins,” an Emmy-nominated Disney series about a girl who doctors broken toys in her playhouse clinic. Earlier this summer, Kai’s mom left their Sacramento home to fly to Van Nuys, where she starred in an educational short that will air during the program next week.
Bradford, who practices orthopedic and general surgery at George L. Mee Memorial Hospital in Monterey County, was one of five physicians invited to the set to explain her specialty by acting out a scene. The real-life scenes aim to bolster the animated series’s lessons about the importance of going to the doctor, said the show’s creator Chris Nee.
In Bradford’s scene, she talks to a young girl with a broken arm about the process of getting a cast. The scene will air Monday at 9:25 a.m. between episodes, which average approximately 1.5 million viewers, according to Disney.
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“Doc McStuffins” is different from other Disney programs because it gives children health information they can hold on to, said Bradford. The surgeon said she’s heard her son singing songs that he learned from the show’s main character, Dottie McStuffins, who teaches kids about everything from wearing sunscreen to overeating.
“(Dottie) is catchy enough that kids are watching, and they’re listening, which is the important thing,” Bradford said. “A lot of kids watch TV and it goes in one ear and out the other. To have them remember what you’re talking about and spit it back to you is good.”
The show is Disney’s first preschool animated series with an African American lead character. It’s also the first to star a girl as an aspiring doctor – a move that has been lauded by physicians as a huge step toward promoting diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics – the STEM fields.
Bradford was asked to appear in the program through her involvement with Artemis Medical Society, a national network of nearly 4,000 female doctors of color that fosters sisterhood and encourages young women to consider the profession.
About 3 percent of California physicians are African American, according to the California HealthCare Foundation. Women of color make up only a fraction of the nation’s doctors and even fewer in orthopedics, said Bradford. When she first started in the surgery specialty, she had a female mentor, which she said made a huge difference.
“There are a lot of men who say you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it,” Bradford said. “So to have a woman doing it and doing it well was very encouraging. This makes me think there will be other black girls who can be doctors when they grow up. My role in ‘Doc McStuffins’ is to assist with that.”
This is the second year that Disney has featured physicians during the “Doc McStuffins” program, but the first time Bradford has been asked to join. She and another of this year’s physicians, Dr. Angela Tucker, are members of the Artemis Medical Society.
Dr. Myiesha Taylor, president of the society, said that having scenes featuring real-life doctors takes the show’s mission a step farther by giving young girls a concrete goal to aspire to.
“Children know that cartoons are cartoons,” Taylor said. “Having Dr. Bradford and Dr. Tucker and others on air demonstrates that they are real. They’re not just the princesses you never see.”
Nee, who has worked for Discovery Channel, ABC and Nickelodeon, said she aims to show children that there are people of all races and genders working in the medical world. She initially conceived the series to help her son, who suffers from asthma and has spent some time in the hospital, better understand what doctors do.
“We’re in a country where we’re trying to teach healthy habits at a young age, and this is another resource we can use to do that,” she said. “The kids walk away knowing that overall going to the doctor will make their lives easier.”