What is Child Life and how did you discover the profession?
Ashley Brady: Child life specialists work in many areas of the hospital from the Emergency Department to the ICU. I discovered the child life profession in my second year of college when I was looking for a career that combined the medical field and working with children. I graduated from college and did my child life internship, which is a 15-week unpaid clinical experience. During my internship, I fell in love with the field of child life and truly feel that being a child life specialist is a calling rather than a job.
Jill Bringhurst: A child life specialist will prepare a patient for surgery or an invasive procedure, provide support during imaging or medical testing and debrief those involved in a traumatic event. The role of a child life specialist in a pediatric setting is a key component to the psychosocial support families receive at Children’s.
Why is Child Life important in a hospital setting?
JB: Child Life is an entire discipline focused solely on the psychosocial needs of pediatric patients. At Children’s, we have many people caring for the medical needs of a patient, but the child life specialist can address the developmental, emotional and social needs of the patient.
AB: We understand that children are not little adults. Children of every age have specific needs. Hospitalized children need to be involved in play which promotes normalization of a sometimes scary environment as well as way to express feelings. Teens have their own space in the hospital where they can hang out with kids their age.
How does Child Life make a difference in the child’s care?
AB: We use our expertise in child development to tailor our interventions to help the children cope. Studies show when children know what to expect in the medical setting, they do better. I have had many experiences in the surgery unit where I walk into a room and the child is hiding in the bed, scared and crying. When I begin to blow bubbles, the child slowly comes out from under the covers. The child then makes eye contact with mom to make sure I am a safe person and engages in the bubble play which helps me build rapport with him. Once the child is comfortable with me, I am able to talk with him about things that might be scary or hard, such as the upcoming surgery. We also work with the entire family. When siblings come to visit their brother or sister in the ICU, we educate the siblings about what to expect. When a child is newly diagnosed with a chronic illness, we explain the complexities of the diagnosis using kid friendly language and teaching dolls.
RD: We give the child tools they can use in the future, control when most of their control has been lost or taken away, and predictability with a routine or structure. We also provide toys and activities in the playroom which can help make a scary or unfamiliar place fun, give the child age appropriate information and knowledge about their disease or condition, and take away their fear of coming back to the hospital.
Why did you decide to pursue child life as a career?
JB: I was fascinated by the hospital and medical field and also drawn to working with children and making things better for them.
RD: I didn’t want to be a doctor or nurse but still wanted to work with children in the hospital setting, making their experience better.
AB: It is a job that challenges me in many ways but is so rewarding. I feel very blessed to have a job that I love, and that every day I have an opportunity to directly impact patients and their families.