That may sound simple on the surface, but the range of skills a child-life specialist needs to master is remarkable. They need to understand medical procedures of all kinds and how to explain those procedures to a child—with a different version for various ages and cognitive abilities. They need to read an emotional situation instantly, even before it surfaces, and have an appropriate and effective solution ready to hand, which differs from child to child and family to family. They need to understand various cultures, not only in terms of what and what is not appropriate behaviorally, but also in terms of gender differences and attitudes toward medicine. They have to be able to choose just the right toy, organize a party, talk to an anesthesiologist about a procedure and console a mother whose daughter has just died. They have to be thoroughly adaptable, instantly creative, endlessly patient and entirely compassionate.
Many divisions of Connecticut Children’s have at least one child-life specialist attached to it. To give you a small sense of what these remarkable people do, we decided to spend a day with three of them.