A little known secret about me is that I spent a few years of my childhood in a wheelchair. At the age of five, I underwent two major orthopedic surgeries to correct a deformation in my hip bones. My parents have shared horror stories of how much pain I was in after each surgery, but I do not recall any of it (thank goodness)!
But what do I remember of the weeks I spent in the hospital for pre- and post-op and during rehabilitation? The playroom, of course! I also have fond memories of building a bird house out of Popsicle sticks during my stay.
This is why I have the most profound respect for Child Life Specialists – whose job it is to make a child’s hospital experience as positive as possible. From toy rooms and activities to bringing superheroes in to visit, these child champions go above and beyond every day to make the good memories outweigh the bad. Child Life Specialists also provide education for patients, about what to expect in their medical treatments and to help them keep up with their academic studies through our hospital schools.
I talked to one of Banner Children’s Child Life Specialists, Wendy Pauker, who manages the program at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz., about her job and why she does it.
Why did you decide to become a Child Life Specialist?
I became a Child Life Specialist because I have always been fascinated with hospitals, even when I was a very young child, and I love kids. I got really lucky hearing about Child Life as a profession my senior year in college while I was volunteering at the University Medical Center in Tucson on the pediatric unit.
Why do you think child life specialists are important for hospitals?
I think Child Life Specialists are so important because we know how to talk to children in a very special way and educate them about being sick, hospitalization, trauma or death. We are able to make quick assessments and evaluate how to best educate children on their illness or hospitalization. We teach them in a variety of ways. We use teaching dolls, real medical equipment when appropriate, toy medical equipment, books and iPad apps. We support the child and family throughout hospitalization and we are very honest with the child.
What advice do you have for parents who learn their child needs to be admitted to the hospital to help them prepare?
Always be honest. Tell children only the information they need to know or ask you. Have them help you pack the bag they will bring to the hospital so that there are some things in there that will make them comfortable during the hospital stay. Call the hospital your child will be going to and see if they offer a pre-op tour if your child is coming for surgery.
To see some of our child life specialists in action, check out this video about medical play, from Raising Arizona Kids Magazine.
Thanks to Child Life Specialists, I didn’t just leave the hospital with the ability to walk again, but with the lifelong skill of making an excellent Popsicle bird house!