6 ways Birmingham’s child life specialists make the hospital better

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March is Child Life Month! Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

A stay in the hospital can be stressful whether you’re a patient or family member. Did you know there’s an entire profession dedicated to making time at the hospital easier for children and their families? We spoke with three child life specialists at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham to find out more.

1. Child life specialists are experts in meeting children’s needs at the hospital.

Child life specialists are trained to work with children in a hospital setting. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Child life specialists are trained in meeting the unique needs of children while they are at the hospital. Let’s face it—a hospital can be an intimidating place for adults, and for littles even more so. Child life specialists are experts that have bachelor’s degrees in child life, family studies or a related field and are certified by The Child Life Council.


2. They help patients and families overcome uncertainty. 

Kaitlyn Scheid, child life specialist at Children’s of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Child life is a niche field in medicine—it’s also growing quickly. Kaitlyn Scheid, Melissa Johnson and Chloe Light of Children’s of Alabama all decided to pursue careers in this area after personal experiences in hospital settings when they were younger.

“My sister was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a rare form of cancer, when I was a sophomore in college. The nature of her tumor resulted in the removal of her right eye and caused a lot of stress and anxiety not knowing what that diagnosis entailed. Talking with her child life specialist helped us not only cope with the new diagnosis, but overcome the uncertainty and obstacles as a family.”

Kaitlyn Scheid, certified child life specialist, Children’s of Alabama

3. They provide much-needed support. 

Melissa Johnson, child life specialist at Children’s of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Melissa Johnson knew she wanted to go into child life after seeing the care her family friend received after being admitted to Children’s of Alabama in high school. 

“I remember leaving her hospital room knowing I wanted to work with children and help them have fun in the hospital. My goal was to end up back at Children’s, because I saw the amazing atmosphere and support my friend and her family got here.”

Melissa Johnson, certified child life specialist, Children’s of Alabama

4. They can answer your child’s questions—and yours!

Chloe Light, child life specialist (and former patient) at Children’s of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Sometimes it’s hard for children to understand why they need to be in the hospital or why they have to do things a certain way after a diagnosis. Chloe Light experienced this firsthand as a patient at Children’s of Alabama as a child, undergoing three surgeries by age 1.5 for a congenital heart defect. Her journey came full circle when she was again admitted as a patient while also practicing as a child life specialist at Children’s last year. 

“As a child, I was always asking questions about why I had to do certain things and why I looked the way I did. I had a thirst for knowing more about what happened to me when I was little. I wanted to give back to the hospital that helped me when I was younger.”

Chloe Light, certified child life specialist, Children’s of Alabama

5. From play to preparing for procedures, child life specialists wear multiple hats. 

Play is a big part of child life, making a stay at the hospital more enjoyable for children. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Child life is multifaceted. Child life specialists work on “normalization activities” with children, like playing with play-doh or coloring with them to make them feel more at ease—but it’s not all fun and games. Child life specialists also prepare children for procedures like MRIs, talk to them about medications, offer family support, consult in the NICU and a whole lot more.  

“You have to have passion to do it. [The job] takes a lot of advocating for your patient, their family and your services. It’s not just about the play—it’s about helping these families through a hard time in their life.” 

Melissa Johnson, certified child life specialist, Children’s of Alabama

6. They help families cope with difficult diagnoses. 

Child life at Children’s of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

The work of a child life specialist comes down to one crucial thing: coping. A difficult diagnosis can bring a great amount of uncertainty and confusion—having someone talk a child and his or her family through it can really help ease anxiety, make the hospital stay a little better and help them adjust to a new reality. 

“One of my favorite parts about child life—which is one of the hardest and most rewarding—is working with someone that has a scary diagnosis. You see the fear—they’re really confused and anxious. But you can help them cope through a difficult procedure. You can walk alongside them and help them reach their goal. When you help families and patients get through really hard days, you see the confidence they gain.”

Chloe Light, certified child life specialist, Children’s of Alabama

Learn More

Child life at Children’s of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

If your child should ever be admitted to Children’s of Alabama, be sure to ask if a child life specialist is available. You can also donate to Child Life and help with this important work at Children’s of Alabama.

Do you know a child life specialist? Has one helped you or your child? Let us know @BhamNow!

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