I learned about the career of a child-life specialist through one of my classmates in the Individual and Family Development major. As she described the career field, I felt like it would be a great fit for me. I researched the field and learned that to become a child-life specialist you must have your bachelor’s degree and at least 480 hours of child-life internship training, and then sit for the certification exam.
In my senior year, I applied to eight internship programs around the country to work toward becoming a child-life specialist. I was accepted into a program at the University of California, Davis, Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, California.
After graduating from SPU with a degree in Individual and Family Development, I moved to Sacramento and completed more than 600 hours of child-life internship. I learned about the medical field and hospital environment, as well as how to work with sick children and their families.
After my internship I was hired as a child-life specialist fellow for six months. This opportunity gave me paid child-life experience, as well as more hours to help me to be a better candidate for future employment. After completing this fellowship, I took and passed the certification exam, and I am proud to say that I am now a certified child-life specialist.
Every morning our staff gets a census that has the name, age, diagnosis, and additional psychosocial and medical information necessary to work with the patient and family. My job revolves around family-centered care. This means that we treat not only the patient, but also the whole family. I prioritize my patients for the day and work accordingly. Procedures such as surgeries, IV placement, and new diagnosis often take priority in the day.
My job is to prepare children for procedures and medical care in order to reduce stress and anxiety in the hospital environment. Preparation can come in many forms, but typically involves teaching children about what is going to happen in developmentally appropriate terms. I often describe things in terms of senses: What they will smell, see, feel, hear, and taste. I also work with the children and families to discover and implement coping skills that would be beneficial throughout the procedure, illness, and hospital stay.
In the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), I work with kids and their families in very high-stress situations. Much of my work in the PICU deals with end-of-life issues, which means that the child is actively dying. We focus on preparing siblings and parents for what to expect and how to cope. I also do “memory making” for the family to have handprints/footprints and molds as well as a clipping of hair and other mementos to aid in the grieving process. I believe it is a great honor when a family allows you to be involved in their child’s end-of-life process.
I love being a child-life specialist! Although it can be emotionally taxing at times, I believe there is so much reward in helping a child and family in the hospital. Sickness is the reality for many families. My goal is to help to reduce the stress and fear as much as possible.