Child Life Heroes: Navigating the Child Life Journey

Becoming a certified child life specialist (CCLS) is hard work. It takes a lot of schooling, training, preparation, and dedication to get the certification and the job. But it’s worth it because child life specialists make a huge impact in the lives of kids and families each day. To get a better perspective of the process of becoming a CCLS, I asked Ashley Bain, a child life student, about her current child life internship and the advice she has for those navigating the child life journey.

 Photo provided by Ashley Bain

Photo provided by Ashley Bain

Ashley spent her first two months of life at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis after being born prematurely. During that time, she was diagnosed and treated for hydrocephalus and returned for eye surgery at the age of two. She continued to have doctor’s visits at Riley Children’s Hospital throughout her childhood years. Because of her experiences, Ashley knew she wanted to work in a children’s hospital since she was eight-years-old.

Fast forward to now, Ashley is working as a child life intern and covers many areas of the hospital like day surgery, the emergency department, and inpatient and outpatient units. So far, she says her internship has been amazing and she’s gained so much experience, especially in learning how to properly prep and distract children during harsh and painful procedures. “Families of little ones and teens have told me that I’m going to make an amazing child life specialist, and that they were so grateful for my services,” she says, “Without child life, their hospital experience would have been completely different.”

"Without child life, their hospital experience would have been completely different.”

Ashley’s internship has given her the opportunity to build amazing relationships and memories that she’ll cherish for a lifetime. One remarkable patient story she shared with me was with an 8-year-old girl on her endoscopy surgery day. The patient had to receive an IV for her “sleepy medicine,” but after enduring poke after poke, the IV still wouldn’t take due to her being so dehydrated. While Ashley and the patient waited for the nurse to come back and try again, she pulled out her collection of SpellBound tools. “What are those?” the girl asked. Ashley showed her Centaur, Pegasus, and Castle Lionheart and asked her which one she wanted to play with. She selected Pegasus and they headed into the surgical suite together.

While the nurse prepped the items, Ashley asked the patient if she wanted to use Pegasus for the IV start and for going off to sleep. “YES!” she exclaimed. In a moment, the majestic white horse appeared to magically stand in the room with them. As the patient tapped quickly on the iPad screen, Pegasus flew high into the surgery room. “Wow, that is cool! Can I do it again?” the patient asked. She did it a few more times, and before she knew it, the IV was in place.

 Pegasus Myth Card in action

Pegasus Myth Card in action

The surgical team came into the room and the patient told the surgeon that she was helping a unicorn fly! The surgeon laughed and asked to see how she did it, so she tapped the screen again to show him. While getting the medicine ready, everyone in the surgery room talked about the flying horse and Ashley asked the patient if she wanted to dream about Pegasus and a princess as she went to sleep. Smiling, she nodded her head. Using her guided imagery skills, Ashley began to paint a picture of Pegasus as the patient drifted off to sleep. “With his thick white coat, long strands of hair and shiny wings, Pegasus carried a princess high in the sky. Off he carried her to her large, majestic castle where her prince waited for her and they lived happily ever after…”

After the surgery was over, Ashley headed to the recovery room to see how the patient was doing. Her mom and brother said she was well and that she was talking about some white horse. Ashley laughed and told them what they had talked about prior to surgery. The girl turned to Ashley and quickly asked, “What happened to the princess?!”

Ashley says SpellBound has been really helpful for these IV starts before endoscopy surgeries. “When I meet the patients, it’s early in the morning. They’re hungry and tired and they obviously don’t want to be there,” she says, “I use SpellBound as a way to build rapport with the patients and even with the parents. It not only gives them a sense of normalcy, but it also lets the patient know that hospitals aren’t so scary. I like how SpellBound can take tears of pain and turn them into tears of joy, and instead of screaming, the child is laughing.”

It’s obvious that Ashley is already making a huge difference with patients and families as a child life intern. We’re grateful for all the passionate child life students who are pursuing the journey in order to better the lives of children. It doesn’t come without challenges, however, and Ashley has some advice for child life students: “If this line of work were meant to be easy, everybody would be doing it. Don’t give up. If you’re passionate about the field, you’ll find a way to get that practicum, that internship, and ultimately that child life job. Keep going, keep that chin up. You’ll get there when you’re meant to get there.

To keep up with Ashley’s child life journey, check out her blog called Peace, Hope, and Play.