A LOT has happened these last two months in my adventure in child life. I am so happy and excited to let you all know that I have started a new job as a child life specialist at a new hospital! Here’s a list of the crazy changes this new job brings:
- Children’s hospital within an adult hospital –> Stand alone children’s hospital
- Independent child life program –> Well established child life team of 12+ specialists
- Out patient setting (Emergency Room) –> In patient setting (Respiratory Unit)
- Working 3pm-11pm –> Working 9am-5pm (This is huge! As a morning person, this is something I’ve missed – big time!)
- Very limited resources to provide for patients/families –> A WORLD of resources to provide for patients/families
- Short length of stay for the patients –> Long length of stay for the patients
- Very fast paced interventions –> Slower paced interventions
I am so excited about all of the changes and what this means for my professional growth. I am eager to learn about the new population of kids I will be working with and to be a part of such a big and supportive Child Life team. Having done my practicum and internship at stand-alone children’s hospitals, being a part of a big Child Life team is something I’ve always missed. Support from other CCLS’s is an invaluable aspect of succeeding in the Child Life world in my opinion, and I am so happy to have that again.
However, I want to take the time to state how incredibly blessed I feel to have been able to spend my first two years as a CCLS working in an emergency department. I wouldn’t trade the time I spent there for anything in the world and I feel that it served as an incredible base for my career. Here’s what I learned:
- Confidence; In the ER you’re not always called upon to provide services for patients. Things happen very quickly, there is a lot of stress in the air, everyone seems to always be rushing. Being in the ER taught me how to throw myself into situations that I wasn’t necessarily invited into.
- Prioritization; Being the only CCLS on staff in the ER, it was up to me to cover the 24 beds and be aware of where my services were most needed. Being in the ER taught me how to figure out how to prioritize my census list.
- Thicker Skin; The nature of the emergency room is usually very fast-paced and stressful with a wide variety of medical staff. Being in the ER taught me how to work with people in high stress environments and how to work with difficult personalities (to all of the Grey’s Anatomy fans, think…working in a place with many Christina Yangs).
- Empathy; The ER is also filled with highly anxious patients and parents waiting for answers about recent changes in their child’s health. Working in the ER has taught me how to listen and really understand and address the fears and concerns of the patients and families we see.
- Teamwork; There is something unique about working so closely with your co-workers in an environment like the ER. I quickly became very close to many of my co-workers which not only made work more fun, but made us “the dream team” when providing support for our patients and their families. I consider many of my co-workers some of the best friends I’ve ever had! Working in the ER taught me how crucial it is to be a team player.
- Knowledge; The ER is the front line. We get everything, the kids with asthma, the kids with lacerations, the kids with appendicitis, kids with the flu, new chronic illness diagnosis, kids with broken bones, the list goes on and on. Working in the ER has given me knowledge of a wide range of symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments, which is sure to help me along my adventure in child life.
Again, I’ll always cherish the two years I worked in that ER; the families I met, the laughs, the tears, my beautiful work family I became so close to, and most importantly, all of those times I saw the true magic of what Child Life is all about.
January 6th marks my 2 year anniversary of being a working Child Life Specialist. With a little more experience under my belt, I thought I’d be fun to make a little list of things I’ve learned this past year. Enjoy!
- Trying to help with a procedure you know from experience is always difficult is better than not trying at all. Practice makes perfect and it’s important to show to your multidisciplinary team that you’re there to provide support no matter what.
- It’s very important to know what your gross-factor cut off point is. This you will only learn by experience. I am well aware of how much I can stomach and if I am ever in a situation where I’m providing support during one of those procedures, I take my own advice and continue to take deep breaths while providing support for the patient from behind the iPad/I Spy book.
- Don’t underestimate the impact you make in the lives of children and their families – even if they’re quiet the whole time you’re with them or even if the patient has a hard time coping and your interventions are not successful. I have had many patients I thought I didn’t make a great impact on come back and tell me how thankful they are that I was there for them.
- Sometimes bubbles work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes distraction with the iPad works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes prizes are appreciated, sometimes they’re not. All children and their families are different and you cannot beat yourself up about failed attempts.
- I’ve also built a strong relationship with my co-workers, or should I say, my work family this past year. While you’re in school you pretty much have the same circling group of people around you for 4 years, and then you all move on and do your own thing. Well, the workplace is kind of like that too, only you have 1 class with about 80 people and there isn’t an upcoming graduation where you all move on to new things together. It’s different. It’s special. I’ve never been a part of something like this before and I am so blessed to work with such an amazing team. It’s so beautiful to see my colleagues grow up in their personal lives as well as in their profession. Most importantly, building this sense of “work family” helps a lot when working in such a high stress environment to provide the best care for our patient’s and their families.
- Do not be afraid to speak to the doctors. They do not bite! They are human beings with families that probably love game of thrones just as much as you do. Ask them questions about your patients, ask them how their day is going, and if you and the nurses are going to order pizza for lunch, ask them if they’d like to join! Just because they have a “Dr.” at the beginning of their name doesn’t mean that they are that much different from you.
- I have now successfully survived two holiday seasons in the hospital (aka, donation seasons). I always send donors a personalized thank you note in the mail. No matter how small the donation. Working at a children’s hospital within an adult hospital really does make you appreciate every single barbie and matchbox car that is donated to your program. I cannot stress enough how far these donations go in making the hospital experience less threatening for children and teens and I always make sure to let my donors know how thankful I am for their generosity.
- Being flexible is a very important trait of being a Child Life Specialist. From prepping a patient for a procedure and then suddenly the entire plan of care changes, to preparing to provide support for a patient when then realizing it’s the sibling that really needs your support, to administrative situations like working 3pm-11pm one day to come in at 8am the next day for a special event, to having changes in the budget, to new policies and procedures, etc. You have to be able to go with the flow and adapt as quickly as possible. Especially in a fast paced ER! But that’s all part of the fun, right?
- If you feel you need more support or experience with something that you’re not too comfortable with, go out there and find it for yourself! Post on the Child Life forum, search for volunteer opportunities, or even search the Child Life Council for support. You have to be a go getter and gain the skills and experience to be the best CLS you can be!
Two years later and I still impress myself with how magical and overall important the Child Life profession really is. I look forward to sharing another year of my adventure with you all!
Thanks for reading & Happy New Year, Child Life!
I’m thankful for…
- People and organizations that donate to children’s hospitals. These donations truly go a long way and make a world of difference for our patient’s year round. As crazy as it sounds, many child life programs do not have a budget and rely on solely on donations for crayons, toys, and stickers!
- Soap! Yes, soap. For without soap there’d be no bubbles! And we all know that Child Life & bubble blowing go hand in hand.
- Those techs, nurses, and doctors that request Child Life services BEFORE they begin their procedure.
- Steve Jobs – for making an incredible distraction tool that not only actively engages patients, but also blocks the view.
- Dansko Shoes – for helping my feet cope with standing, walking, running, and of course, squatting during long procedures.
- My child life assistant and volunteers that not only help me every day with upkeep care of my child life program, but also help me cope with losses on Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones (McDreamy, Glenn, & John Snow forever).
- The summer months when our census drastically slows down.
- These $4 for a dozen gold medals from oriental trading – this is often the most appreciated prize I can give a child for being brave.
- All of the other wonderful Child Life bloggers that not only inspire me to be the best CCLS I can be, but advocate for our beautiful profession & make a difference every day.
- And of course, all of my wonderful readers that continue to encourage me to keep blogging!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
& to all of my fellow CCLS’s, make sure & rest up this week – the hectic holiday season is HERE!
My favorite find of the month are these coloring books that feature kids with disabilities! Sue Nuenke and her son, Christopher Harmon, have worked together to create fun coloring books and stickers that will help kids “see characters that look like them too”. I am a huge fan of any and all resources that I can provide for children with disabilities – much more so those resources that help normalize their environment. These coloring pages are available on the website (link below) to print for free!
For more information on Popping Wheelies visit: http://themighty.com/2015/08/1this-mom-created-coloring-books-that-feature-kids-with-disabilities/
I often receive e-mails from Child Life students asking what I would recommend to make their application POP when up against others applying for a practicum/internship. This is a very valid question as you can imagine everyone your up against for the position also “loves kids” & is “very creative”. So, what are some things that you can add to your resume to stand out?
- Experience with Kids
We know you love kids (its a requirement for the job!), but show your program just how much. Hospitalized kids, kids in summer camps, babysitting, kids with special needs, tutoring, etc. By showing that you’ve worked with kids in a variety of settings you appear well rounded & it’s clear that you enjoy spending your time being around kids! Below are some of my favorite organizations that often are in need of volunteers:
- Be Involved with the Child Life Council
Becoming a member of the CLC will not only open a world of resources and information for you, but it will also show prospective hospitals that you’re serious about becoming a CCLS. Want to show them that you’re super serious about becoming a CCLS? Attend the Child Life Conference! Attending conference not only give you an opportunity to network, learn, and have fun in a new city, but it also looks very impressive on a resume. This shows interviewer that you’re passionate about Child Life, that you’re willing to learn about Child Life, and that you’ll be dedicated during your internship. Want to know more about what conference is like? Check out my post from the CLC conference 2014: http://adventuresinchildlife.com/2014/06/10/child-life-conference-recap/
- Start a Blog
Starting my blog was one of the best decisions I made in my journey to becoming a CCLS. Writing this blog gave me a reason to do research about the job, made me become aware of news and advancements happening in the field, network with other aspiring child life specialists, and now as a professional I use my blog as a portfolio of my work! Blogging about something shows that you’re truly interested in the topic and that you genuinely enjoy it. If you do decide to start a blog, let me know and I’ll give you a shout out! :)
- Recognize your Special Talents
There may be many special talents that you have that you don’t even consider special. Try and see things from a CCLS point of view and what they experience on a daily basis; do you have any skills that can relate?
- Great at public speaking? As a CCLS you’re often times asked to provide in-services for members of the multidisciplinary team. It’s GREAT if you don’t faint at just the thought of speaking in front of a crowd.
- Worked in retail during the dreadfully busy holiday season? Multitasking at a high-stress fast-paced job while having to maintain focus on customer service as well as the task at hand sounds a lot like Child Life to me!
- Speak another language? Having grown up speaking Spanish myself, I never thought this would be something I’d mention during an interview – it’s no big deal, especially here in Miami where everyone speaks Spanish. This is an invaluable skill when working in healthcare (or anywhere, really!) and you should definitely brag about it.
- Worked as a waitress/waiter or telemarketer during college? People skills are everything for Child Life. You need to know how to talk to children, yes, but you also need to know how to speak to their scared, angry, nervous, tearful parents.
- Take Pictures
It’s great to hear about how creative a candidate says she/he is, but it’s even better to see it! Take pictures (while abiding to HIPPA regulations) of the work you’ve done with children, medical play activities you’ve created, art work patient’s have made for you, etc. This will really make you stand out from other candidates.
During your experiences volunteering or during your practicum, keep a journal of special moments that you witnessed the CCLS have with a child or that you yourself had with a child! Before an interview I always like to go over my personal journal where I’ve jotted down special moments I’ve had with patients and their families. This is a great “refresher” for when interviewers ask those great “Tell me about a time when you…” questions.
- Trust me, if you don’t refresh on your experiences before an interview you’ll sit there trying to think of a special moment you had with a patient but all you’ll be able to think about is how much time you’ve been trying to think and how quiet everyone is & then you won’t even remember ever seeing a child before! Very awkward and a sure way to make you feel you “failed” the interview but it happens to the best of us!
- If keeping a journal isn’t your thing, then when preparing for an interview make sure and just take some time to recall on those experiences & jot a few down. This way they’re fresh in your memory & you can think without eyes staring at you.
Now this point I’m only adding because I am 4 courses away from getting my masters degree so research has become my middle name. I now enjoy reading research articles for fun! (who am I?) – All jokes aside, you really do learn a lot from reading research articles. Search articles about Child Life, pediatrics, distraction, siblings of hospitalized children, children’s perceptions of death, etc. Having this knowledge in your back pocket will really blow your interviewers away when you reply to a question with “Well, I actually read a research article about that which suggested…”
If you’re still in school, tailor your classes as much as possible to Child Life (for those of you like me, whose university does not have a Child Life major). Take classes like medical terminology, children with special needs, a survey of developmental disabilities, death and dying, psychology, ethics, hospital management, etc. Different universities offer a wide range of courses so when picking classes always keep an eye out for those course descriptions that relate to Child Life and/or the hospital setting in general. My favorite elective was “childhood around the world”!
- Be Creative
Being creative is something all child life specialists claim to be but no two are the same. Show your creativity when applying for your position whether it’s decorating your application folder with washi tape or including an extra letter of recommendation from a child you know. After sorting through mountains of manila envelope applications, finding creativity in one will definitely set you apart. DISCLAIMER: don’t get too carried away with creativity; you are still applying for a professional role so shoving confetti into your application might be too much. Ask a trusted friend or parent for advice if you’re not sure!
My favorite find of the month this month is an organization named“Hope Has Fun”. Founded by 10-year-old Isabella, Hope Has Fun brings the power of play to children in the hospital. Their current project is to collect items for Operation Smile’s Child Life program. This project will be open for anyone to participate in until May 2016 when they will give the donations to Operation Smile Child Life programs around the world. I am personally a huge supporter of Operation Smile’s Child Life program so I feel this is an incredible way to help out in the Child Life community. Way to go, Hope Has Fun!
For more information on Hope Has Fun visit: http://www.hopehasfun.org/
For more information on Operation Smile visit: http://www.operationsmile.org/
I’m all about waiting room craft kits! Especially seasonal ones! I mean, c’mon, look how cute these little “Fall Friends” are!! These craft kits are very easy to make and I am truly blessed to have such great volunteers that help me make dozens of them (thanks sofi & stephanie).
All you need is:
Then you just put 10 shapes and half of a construction paper into a baggie & voilà! Fun, seasonal, adorable, mess free waiting room crafts ready to go!