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A Day in the Life of a Child Life Specialist – Part I

For fourteen years, Child Life Specialist Maureen has played I Spy, Skip-Bo and blown bubbles in the name of providing clarity, comfort and normalcy to hospitalized children of all ages and diagnosis. She has worked to build relationships with them and their families, helping all to understand procedures, conditions and talk through the “what-ifs.”

We recently tagged along on a shift with Maureen at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.  The Children’s Foundation supports Child Life Services at Children’s Hospital of Michigan with annual grant funding so that Maureen and her colleagues can provide important support engaging children in medical play and recreational activities as well as providing emotional support and explanations, all while tailoring the approach to meet the needs of each patient and family.

Case by case, we learned the profound impact a Child Life Specialist has on hospitalized children and their families. Here’s a look inside (patient names have been changed to protect identity):

6:30 a.m. – The alarm sounds and Maureen wakes to start her day. She gets dressed, brushes her teeth and grabs a breakfast bar to eat on her 20-minute drive to work. Her commute is reserved for framing her day, reminding herself: “I will do the best of my ability to help patients and families. Stay calm. Take one intervention at a time.”

8 – 8:45 a.m. – When Maureen arrives at work, she heads to her office for some prep work, checks email and reviews the nurse’s report. After a huddle with the Child Life Team, she makes a list of priority patients based on who is scheduled to receive tests and procedures and sets off to make her rounds.

9:01 a.m. – With a medical play doll in tow, Maureen makes her way down the hall to seven-year-old Blanca.* Blanca was recently notified she would require an insertion of a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC Line) and had no idea what that was, but that’s what Maureen would help to explain.

Blanca bonds with the doll by drawing colorful eyes, nose and lips on it. She names the doll Selena. Maureen shares that Selena has the same condition as Blanca. And since the doll has a full circulatory system, they discuss the reasons why Selena, too, needed a PICC Line.  Then they go through each step of the procedure. By teaching through play, this helps Blanca to understand that the PICC Line helps people get medicine they need and makes her feel a special bond with a special new doll.

9:52 a.m. – Maureen gets a page to help with two-year old Joshua* who was admitted in the early hours of the morning. As she approached the room, she heard loud crying – a group of nursing students standing outside the room warn her the patient has been crying for hours and they can’t get vitals on him.

Maureen rushes to the toy cabinet, grabs a handful of distractions and returns to the room to see Dad trying to hold an inconsolable boy named Joshua. The look on Dad’s faced says everything about how their night had probably gone.

She quickly introduces herself and turns on a light-up toy – an immediate hit. Joshua stops crying and climbs off Dad’s lap to explore. Maureen and Joshua create a little play area with a blanket and more toys, a perfect diversion and an opportunity for the nursing students to take his blood pressure and temperature.

10:45 a.m. – It’s been about a week since 10-year-old Markus* had surgery on his heart – Maureen sees him lying in the bed watching a movie and stops in to say hi. He is excited to see her– he tells her Mom and Dad are work and would be there later. She pulls a game of UNO from her pocket and he says it is one of his favorite games. Maureen deals the cards and soon learns Markus isn’t a fan of playing by the rules – she teases him about it but lets it slide because right now, it’s about bringing a small sense of normalcy to him.

11:43 a.m. – About now, Maureen is reminded that a breakfast bar is never the fulfilling meal she hopes it will be. She heads back to her office to grab the lunch she packed, and chats with a few colleagues about their upcoming weekend plans. After, she charts for her morning patients then gets back to work.

Stay tuned for Part II of Maureen’s day, which we look forward to sharing later this month!

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