March is Child Life Month, meaning this is the perfect time to ask: What exactly does a Child Life Specialist do? To find out, we “virtually” tagged along with one for a day. This is what a typical day looks like in this important role.
For Child Life Specialist Brittany Best, play is a natural part of her work day. She approaches her role with a keen understanding of how the seemingly small tasks she performs every day — comforting children prior to a procedure, writing thank-you notes to donors, training interns — positively impact the lives of the children she serves and their families.
So what does it take to work in Renown’s Child Life Program? Best shares some of the highlights from a “typical” shift.
A Child Life Specialist’s Day
Clock in, put my belongings in my office, and print the patient census information. This helps me to get a sense of the day ahead, as I’m covering three areas today.
I look over the census sheets for all three areas and check in with the nurses in each area and then try to prioritize my day.
I attend Interdisciplinary Rounds for the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where the most critically ill or injured children are treated. Additionally, Interdisciplinary Rounds enable several key members of a patient’s care team to come together and offer expertise in patient care.
I come up to the specialty clinic/infusion center to check on the patients that have arrived already and see how things have been going since I had last seen them. We see patients frequently up here, as they are receiving treatment for cancer or other disease processes.
I’m notified by an RN that a patient needs an IV started, so I go meet with the patient and their family. I meet with a 6-year-old and mother to explain what an IV is and why it is needed. We go through an IV prep kit, looking at all the different items the nurse will use including cold stinky soap, a tight rubber band and also a flexible straw. I also teach this patient a breathing exercise to help them relax during the procedure with a simple exercise known as “smell flowers, blow out candles.” I demonstrate how to take a deep breath in through the nose — like smelling flowers — then how to blow that breath out — like blowing out birthday candles.
I walk with the patient and mom to the procedure room on the Children’s Patient Floor for an IV procedure. The Vecta distraction station is set up and running with its bright lights and water tube that bubbles with plastic fish swimming. The parent holds the patient in their lap, and with the distraction and medical preparation, we are successful! I give the patient a toy and provide emotional support to both the young patient and his mom. It’s easy to forget that these procedures can be stressful for the parents as well.
I finish rounding with staff to catch up on patients. In addition, I introduce myself to patients and put my contact number on the board in each room so the families know how to get a hold of me should they need anything. With support from volunteers, we distribute movies, games, and “All About Me” forms to patients and their families. These forms help us get to know our patients with things like their favorite foods and televisions shows.
I help with a lab draw in Children’s Specialty Care. A 3-year-old patient is very anxious about the “shot,” so I meet with the patient and parents to discuss coping techniques. The patient holds the Buzzy Bee and does well during the lab draw. The mom is relieved, and the patient is excited for a toy. The Buzzy Bee actually helps block the transmission of sharp pain on contact through icy numbing and also tingly vibration.
Joan, an artist with our Healing Arts Program, arrives on the Children’s Patient Floor to perform art therapy with patients. She helps two young patients who are interested in watercolor paintings.
Time for lunch and also a trip to Starbucks.
I finishing rounding and introducing myself and our services to the patients I have not met yet.
At this time, I meet with the parents of a newly diagnosed diabetic patient who is in intensive care. A new chronic diagnosis is always difficult, so I am there to provide emotional support. It’s instances like this that remind me every day why I love the work I do.
I meet with a new volunteer, discuss their role and also give the new volunteer a tour of the units. We are very thankful for all our volunteers on the floor, as their contributions help us provide a variety of basic services to a larger number of children. This also allows the Child Life Specialist to devote time to children who require more intense or specialized service.
I finish charting on patients and help two newly admitted families before I start to wrap up for the day. This evening we have a volunteer covering the times during shift change, which is helpful as it makes for a smooth transition for families during the meal time and change of shift. During this time, I write a note for this volunteer indicating the patients I want her to focus on.
Check in with critical patients and families before leaving for the day. All-in-all, it was a good day.