This week, I will spotlight a Canadian career changer as a guest blogger. Kim Zink is currently completing her child life internship in a community-based practice with mentor, Morgan Livingstone, a CCLS based out of Toronto, Ontario. Kim left her position in the school board to focus and refine her scope of practice to assisting children and families facing challenging life events. She sensed the need for more psychosocial supports and greater visibility of child life services in the Ottawa region. So, with the support of her husband, two children, and extended family, she is chasing her dream!
This internship has been the perfect fit for me. My mentor has been working in her own practice for many years, so she has a broad network of community resources and wealth of knowledge in many areas including global health, retinoblastoma, and traumatic brain injuries. She also wrote an incredible parent guide for families affected by breast cancer (including metastatic disease).
My internship has been full and rich. My first rotation took place at the Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital and the Sally Test Pediatric Centre in Eldoret, Kenya. Morgan has been developing a self-sustained child life program there for many years. It was invaluable to see the robust program which now includes a number of child life specialists, teachers, playroom monitors and child life assistants. The team endearingly refer to Morgan as ‘ our mwalimu,’ which means teacher in Swahili. Morgan served as an example of how to be patient-centered and culturally sensitive in global healthcare, no easy task.
While we were there, I was invited to sit in on an oncology meeting. It was deeply moving and inspiring to hear the doctors speak so highly of the child life staff to the families. The doctors spoke of being a team and that families should refer to child life with any questions about their child’s developmental, social and emotional needs. The child life team has built an advanced practice and a great interdisciplinary approach. Unfortunately, in some areas, the pain medications and ideal supplies are not available, so I had the opportunity to offer distractions through games on a tablet and meteor storm toy to bring the child’s attention away from the burned areas and bandage changes during procedures. It was a proud moment for me when the doctor told me that the best bandage change a particular boy had ever had and that I was welcome back anytime.
The hospital sees over 300 children every day, and sadly many of the children are not brought to the hospital until their illness has progressed to the palliative state. So we turned our focus to legacy building and adding quality to end of life. One simple and inexpensive legacy activity that worked well was making a salt dough handprint for each family.
During my second rotation, I relocated to Toronto to intern in Morgan’s local private practice. She sees a number of teen patients, which was a demographic I knew I needed more experience with. I discovered it’s key to listen carefully to their interests and then go home and study up on these interests to gain common ground for future conversation and show teens that you listen and care about what they have to say. So now I know more about the ins and outs of making slime and the youtube channel, Simply Nailogical, than I ever thought possible. This research paved the way to building rapport and trust with one teen in particular. Showing interest in her interests was a great connector.
My future work in child life has also be enhanced by working with my mentor on traumatic brain injury cases. I had the opportunity to see treatment plans, do home visits, sit in on team meetings, and understand the billing process through insurance providers. During a recent conference call, a teen’s mother said, “Things started to finally turn around when Morgan was added to the rehab team and started her sessions. She [the teen] found the tools and started to cope, she really improved with Morgan’s help.”
My latest adventure in my internship included a trip to Washington, DC for the One Retinoblastoma World Conference. I had the privilege of assisting Morgan with the child life programming, which included transformative literacy, medical play, and lots of activities with special eyes. It was great to see one child move from fear to familiarization with the sedation mask. Another child displayed new skills of mastery by using the medical doll to practice cleaning and adjusting an ocular prosthesis. Still another young child spoke openly about having a special eye, as he called it, for the first time. One of the teens overheard and said: “Me too, and I like to take mine out with a suction cup.” There is nothing like these spontaneous conversations to bring about that reassurance of ‘sameness” and soothe constant feelings of being different from everyone else.
Above all, I will finish my internship with ample understanding of what it means to be an advocate for children. Morgan is a tireless champion for her patients, working to be sure they have everything, from a great relationship with their general physician to the correct supports from their school. She moves mountains to make sure the children and teens in her care have everything they need to be happy, healthy children. We need more child life specialists doing this work in the broader community.
PS: Navigating independent and Canadian internship possibilities has its challenges. I highly recommend the Facebook group for ‘Child Life for Canadian Students’ and http://www.cacll.org/