Iowa Children's Museum's updated hospital exhibit reflects changes in health care

Old favorites, ambulance and babies, remain


CORALVILLE — A renovated Children’s Hospital exhibit at the Iowa Children’s Museum is new, brighter and reflects advances in medicine. But staff kept beloved parts of the play space, such as the ambulance and the nursery.

“There’s a lot of changing technology in a hospital,” said Aimee Mussman, assistant director at the Children’s Museum at the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville.

The museum’s popular hospital exhibit, which opened in 1998 and last was refreshed in 2009, has a corner where children pretend to do X-rays on friends or family members. But since that technology now is called imaging, the new exhibit uses the updated terminology. The exhibit highlights STEM careers and has a research nook where children can use a microscope to study slides of things such as a cat hair, potato starch and a tiny duck feather.

The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital gave $25,000 as primary sponsor of the exhibit and lent medical expertise to determine which concepts were most important to teach in the interactive play space for children.

“Many of our faculty and staff have collaborated with the Iowa Children’s Museum for many years on other initiatives and programming for kids, so they were eager to help,” said Aubry Lyon, a hospital spokeswoman.


The team chose areas of focus that mirror what students learn in school, Mussman said. One area explores the human body with an interactive exhibit about the body’s systems and a body outline with removable organs inspired by the game Operation.

The previous exhibit had a large “patient” whose teeth could be brushed and flossed. But he’d lost some teeth over the years, and was replaced by large teeth mounted on a mirror that children can floss with sections of nylon cord. The dental section also has a “Price is Right”-inspired game that allows children to guess how much sugar is in various drinks.


“We do 90 percent of our fabrication on our own,” museum Director Jeff Capps said about the exhibits in the museum.

When the museum announced on Facebook the hospital exhibit would be closed for six weeks for renovation, people asked “What about the babies?” Capps said. They were referring to three cherished baby dolls that children have been clothing, “bathing” and “treating” for years.

Staff decided to place the dolls outside the hospital exhibit so the infants could get some love during the rehab. The babies now are back in the exhibit’s new nursery.


Another much-loved feature is a play ambulance complete with two seats up front — both have steering wheels — and a video showing the drive between the museum and the hospital. The renovation included adding more flashing buttons and updating the video to show the new Children’s Hospital, which opened in 2017.

The Johnson County Ambulance Service helped update the ambulance, Mussman said.


Cathy Fisher, of Mount Vernon, visited the museum recently with her children, Colbie, 6, and Asher, 2. The family has an annual museum membership and loves the new hospital exhibit, Fisher said.

“The old one was still fun, but everything was getting old,” she said. “Now there are more details and pictures. The little picture books are a great idea.”

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