I have begun the process of realizing I am graduating from CMU in, meh about 3 months. The dreams I had 5 years ago as a freshmen in college are nowhere close to the same, and I am in a place, now that five years ago I would have laughed at. I am genuinely happy, with the school I have chosen to finish out my college career in, with the career path I finally found my way to. I am happy with the people at my side as I pursue my still, crazy dreams; but I am happiest with my acceptance of letting go of what I thought was right for me, and for challenging myself socially, academically, and emotionally in every way I could find.
While in the process of realizing I’m graduating with my undergraduate degree, I have simultaneously begun copious other processes. I have begun the process of applying to my dream graduate school, University of Pittsburgh, I have begun to take steps to get myself into the world of child life , which at this point means I’ve started applying for practicums. A Child Life Practicum is one of the steps and requirements I have to complete in order to sit for my exam to become a Certified Child Life Specialist. As my mom has recently discovered this dream of mine…It’s.. a process. A practicum is essentially a fancy, long term (3-4 months) job shadow. Practicums give child life students the opportunity to shadow CCLS’s on different units, and develop a better feel for what a typical day may look at, and to see the diversity in each day. The practicum is also an opportunity for students to start learning how to apply the theories that are drilled into our heads during our schooling to real life and to actual families and clients. The practicum is a very unique opportunity, because it allows us, as students to focus on observing, and asking questions and getting this theory base. This is really helpful because it gives a great building block for the next step in the process, the child life internship, where because of the theory base and observations we were able to do we are more familiar and able to work more with patients and go deeper into the role of a CLS.
One of the questions I have found on almost all practicum applications is the standard, “Why do you want to be a child life specialist?”. Hmmm. Now when I first started thinking about this question I tried staying generic keeping my personal history and connection to child life out of the picture, because I did not want my medical history to be a factor on whether or not I was considered for a position. However, I realized my history is unique, and the experiences I have had offer a specialized look into what patients may be going through. From being hospitalized long term, being surrounded by jargon from the age of five that I did not understand, having little to no control over my body or what was happening to it or going into it, meeting a plethora of white coats who looked at me but did not listen to me, and to at some points not knowing if I was going to ever walk into fresh air again my history gives me an edge because I know so many aspects of the patients perspective. I can understand what it’s like to be five years old and crying hysterically because there are too many things going on around you, and people touching you and you don’t know why. I can recognize how it feels to be exhausted to the point that you feel like you never want to move again. I know, the paralyzing fear of wondering if you’re going to go to homecoming, or if your friends will still want to hangout with you now that you’re sick. I also have learned the importance of listening to the children, and how in tune they can be with their bodies and what is going on with them. This has taught me an appreciation, and urgency to advocate for the often most important voice in the room.
These are things I have lived through, and experienced. I have a new understanding of how this can help me within this line of work. As a comparison, when applying for a job you are asked to speak to your credentials and your education, but often the employer asks you to speak from you experience and the skills you have learned in the field. The patients, and the families want the same, and while it is a rarity to have a professional who understands from experience it is a rarity I am proud to have. How amazing could it be for a teenage who has been hospitalized to hear things from a professional who can speak from experience about how horrible it is to be in the hospital, instead of simply the theory. I believe the approach I can bring with patients adds a unique understanding to the patient when they are in a vulnerable position. Is it essential, absolutely not, but I think it only adds to the impact and support that can be provided.
I have had days in the mist of a depression after months of being hospitalized, and after countless sleepless nights because of pain, and nausea that I’ve wanted it to just be done. I can relate to some of the anxiety, pain, feelings these patients experience, and how amazing is it to use that trauma to help a patient feel not so alone. To provide the familiar face while they scream about how unfair this is, and how much they want the pain to stop. To look at a screaming child while they get an IV and know some of the things going on in their body, and head and to know from experience how you may be able to help. Providing the education, and tools to understand everything we can around them in imperative, but adding the emotional understanding of where the fear comes from and what it feels like can add to the ease the patients feel.
Knowing the patient side of this job gives me a unique look into how to help patients that I am so excited to explore, and expand on in the child life world. I can’t explain why I was put into the situations I was or why certain obstacles were put in front of me. However, if I could have a guess it would be so that I could spend the rest of my life helping children and families cope, and make the process of being in the hospital easier. Child life is the passion I’m so glad I ran into. The stress and trauma children experience with an not smooth hospital visit can leave an impact on the child. So why not provide the tools, provide the education, provide the fun, and provide the warmth that a child deserves when they are faced with an abnormal experience. I’m here to make a difference, with a smile in my face and bubbles in my pocket.
So that, is why child life.