Doll-Sized MRI Machine Helps Kids Overcome Exam Anxiety

February 7, 2022 by   |   Leave a Comment

Loud noises, a tunnel, strangers, and an unfamiliar place. It sounds like the beginning of a scary story! It’s no wonder kids get scared when they come for an MRI. Here’s one way the MRI staff and Child Life Specialists at UVA Health help children know what to expect.


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Staff in the UVA MRI department have something special to show to children who need an MRI: doll-sized MRI models! The department first acquired a miniature MRI model in 2017. It was so popular that they now have three! They now use them for almost every child who needs an MRI in the department, to help them learn what to expect for their scan.

MRI machines make loud and fast noises that make you think the entire machine is on the brink of a meltdown. These noises are actually part of how MRI works, so they are completely normal. But it’s also normal that these loud noises scare kids (they also scare many adults).

Kids can push buttons on the model MRI machines and listen to them make the same noises as the real thing. When a child knows what to expect, it makes their whole experience less scary.


Child Life Specialists at UVA have apps on their phones that play the same noises an MRI machine makes. The model takes this idea a step further, because now a child can see and touch the MRI, pressing buttons, listening to the noises, and putting the doll through the machine—just like what they are about to do!

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Jamie Weathersbee, former chief MRI technologist, talked to me about how it’s hard to know how kids are going to react to the machine when they come for an exam. Some do just fine, watching a movie or listening to music during their scan. Others come in and become fidgety or nervous and need to be sedated so they stay still enough to get the necessary images. Ultimately, the staff works together to help a child complete the exam without sedation whenever possible.

That’s why a Child Life Specialist often comes to work with kids and their families to help each child through the exam in the way that’s best for them. With this new resource, the Child Life Specialist is better able to set every child up for success.

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“It’s intimidating to walk into this room and see this big machine,” said Jamie. “So if kids can see it before and put their hands on it and know it’s not really that big a deal, hopefully once they get into the room it will be better.”

And let’s be honest. The model can help adults, too. If you’re the need-to-know-what’s-coming-next type, you understand what I mean.

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Note: The doll-sized MRI machines are available from Siemens, the company that supplies the full-sized MRI machines at UVA Health. They are only available to healthcare facilities and hospitals with full-scale MRIs. They are not available for purchase by individuals.


Comments (9)

  1. Lauren Strom says:


    I’m a Child Life Specialist at Phoenix Children’s and looking to see where you got your play MRI machine. Thank you!

  2. Matthew Hughes says:

    I have a special needs child that loves MRI machines and has asked for one for Christmas every year. I would love to know where you got this play MRI machine.

  3. Traci Aoki-Tan says:

    Where did you buy this amazing MRI machine?

  4. Jack says:

    Interested to know where I could purchase one of these if you would be so kind!

  5. Graham says:

    Hi, this MRI machine is awesome. Please let me know where I can purchase one. Thanks!

  6. Sandra Chitwood says:

    If you can’t buy them from Siemens, try Playmobile City Life.

  7. “Wow ” this is really very interesting idea that children love MRI Machines.

  8. Tina Ulanowski says:

    I am wanting to purchase a doll sized MRI and CT machine for our Child Life Specialist Program at McLane Children’s Hospital

  9. says:

    Hi Tina,

    The doll-sized MRI machines we use at UVA Health are available from Siemens, the company that supplies our full-sized MRI machines. They are only available to healthcare facilities and hospitals with full-scale Siemens MRIs. We would recommend you contact your MRI provider to inquire about doll-sized machines.

    UVA Radiology

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