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It is a goal of our program to mentor prospective child life students and interns. Due to the high volume of requests for child life specialist interviews for numerous college classes, we have created this central link to provide the timeliest responses available to as many students as possible. Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions. Several questions were answered by multiple child life specialists to provide a range of responses concurrent with our staff.
I really value the freedom to create individual interventions to meet the varying needs of patients and families. This allows me to continually grow clinically and keeps it interesting as it encourages creative thinking. As a specialist, it is most fulfilling to see a once anxious or fearful patient get through a difficult experience with new found coping skills and confidence.
There is high demand for clinical child life services as well as administrative and programming responsibilities. It is always a balancing act to make sure all are done well within one work day.
Part of the beauty of child life is not having a “typical” day and being flexible is an essential characteristic. My day will vary depending on the needs of my patients and families that arise that day. Generally, I gather a census of the patients coming to my unit. Several times a week I attend medical rounds in the morning to talk with staff about patient goals and inquire about their treatment course or reason for admittance.
After accessing a complete census, I start to develop an order to my day. I may recognize repeat patients on my census whom I know need follow up from previous contacts or new patients I need to meet and assess for the first time. I also use their medical status, their developmental age, or known struggles to help me prioritize which patients to see first. I also have the ability to make appointments with patients and families and incorporate those appointments into my day as well. Once on the unit, the day begins to take shape as I continue to assess the patients I come in contact with and provide interventions accordingly.
Interventions may include diagnostic teaching, surgical preparation, expressive play activities, medical play, bereavement support, medication taking techniques, sibling support, or procedural support. It is from there that additional administrative and programming responsibilities are balanced with patient care such as: group time, preparing the playroom, directing volunteers, attending multidisciplinary and interdepartmental committee meetings, and charting.
Generally, child life specialist work from 8:30 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. for a total of 40 hours a week. There are some exceptions if for example a unit has a high volume of patients in the early morning such as a surgery position then typically the specialist would have earlier hours. If a unit has high volume of patient activity later in the day, such as an emergency room position, then the specialist would likely have later hours. Some programs have an on call and weekend position for a specific child life specialist while others have a rotating on call schedule which all employees are required to participate and alter their schedule during their designated weeks.
All employees are required to attain child life certification within their first year of employment or prior to employment by taking the national exam through the child life council. To be eligible to take the certification exam, a student needs to have successfully completed a minimum of 480 hour child life internship (including the verification form) as well as completed ten courses of related course work deemed appropriate by the child life council. Our institution required a bachelor’s degree in a related field but a master’s degree is preferred. Fields of degrees may vary as there are very few child life specific degrees offered but most have a strong foundation in child development (please reference the child life council for specific options).
The current document produced by the child life council in 2008 includes a survey of all child life programs through multiple regions of the world and applicable ranges of salary therein.
I think it is likely that students serious about pursuing the field of child life to be prepared to be mobile. There are just over 400 child life programs within hospitals in the USA. Sizes of programs vary from 1-30 specialists per program. Not all programs offer internships. It is likely necessary to travel to gain child life volunteer experience, practicum experience, internship experience, or employment opportunities especially if you do not live in a large metropolitan city.
I also suggest joining the child life council. There is a wealth of information available to students that join including regional groups, education seminars, a complete directory of programs, a student blog, and student forum. This resource will provide networking as well as answers to any questions you may have rather than seeking out individual hospital specialists for broader career information. It is $65 to become a student member.
Gain as much exposure to the child life field as you possibly can while you are in the training phase of you career. This includes child life volunteering, a practicum, internships, research, camps etc. It makes for a more informed and mature candidate!