As a high school student, I knew I wanted to be a child life specialist. That decision took me from Canada to Auburn, Ala., and eventually to my workday home here at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. As one of more than 40 staff members on our child life team, my job is to help children cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness, hospitalization and potentially traumatic events. My child life role is a little different than that of my colleagues–mainly because my daily toolkit includes Bella, my four-legged best friend and therapy dog.
In the spirit of Child Life Month, here’s what a work day for me looks like:
8 a.m. – Day starts as I huddle with co-workers at the Children’s Center for Safe and Healthy Children, where we assess kids for abuse and neglect. We discuss the six patients we’ll see throughout the day and the circumstances around each visit. My focus is exclusively on the child, so I need a clear understanding of his or her situation to help them in an age-appropriate way. If a child isn’t prepared properly for an exam, the event can be as traumatic as the event that brought them here.
8:15 a.m. – With Bella by my side, it’s time to meet a 15-year-old who is very anxious about her visit. A history of abuse by an older man has caused her to be scared at previous doctor’s visits. Bella lays down next to her, which helps calm her nerves during her exam. Afterwards, I offer her a wallet-sized card that explains what a healthy relationship is and how to identify the signs of teen dating violence. The patient takes one, and then another for a friend.
9:47 a.m. – We head to the waiting room to meet our next patient, a 4-year-old girl gearing up for a forensic interview. I explain to her the details of the appointment and the roles of the people she’s going to meet. While the parents are meeting with the rest of the team, I stay with the patient and assess her developmental level. Afterward, I provide feedback to the team on how to best match the child’s needs during her appointment.
10:30 a.m. – With the patient’s interview complete, Bella and I enter the exam room. I explain every step of her medical exam and let her check out some medical equipment. While the nurse practitioner conducts the exam, I distract her with an I Spy book.
1:02 p.m. – More patients to see. This time, it’s a 6-year-old boy in foster care who was physically abused by his parents and very withdrawn. As we start to get his weight, Bella gives him a kiss and we see him smile for the first time, opening the door for us to communicate with him.
3:30 p.m. – Bella takes a nap while I meet with a colleague who is also part of a workgroup in Atlanta that educates and trains parents, medical professionals and law enforcement officials on the signs and risk factors of teen dating violence.
5:04 p.m. – As always, my workday concludes with a review of the next day’s schedule.
My role at the center allows me to advocate for children in a different and meaningful way that’s perfect for me. The tough cases only reaffirm the importance of what we do.