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Employee Spotlight

Window on Child Life

A glimpse into the lives of some of the Certified Child Life Specialists and the children and families they care for at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt

by August 24, 2021

Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) Sarah Beth Gray with patient Carson Murray, who is trying on an movie goggles as Gray explains how they will work while Carson undergoes an MRI scan without sedation. Helping patients know what to expect, through preparation using developmentally appropriate language, visual aids, and exploration of equipment, is one of the roles of a child life specialist.  

“When you think of health care, it isn’t uncommon to think about first responders, said Stephanie VanDyke, director of Child Life and Volunteer Services at Children’s Hospital.

“As child life professionals, you may think of us as emotional first responders. As a child life team, we provide evidence-based, developmentally appropriate interventions that may include therapeutic play, preparation and other educational opportunities to reduce fear, anxiety and pain associated with health care experiences.

“Recently, we celebrated 50 years of child life at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt,” she said. “As this photo story shares a glimpse into a day in the lives of child life professionals, we celebrate the privilege and honor to share such sacred spaces with the most courageous children and their families.”


Certified Child Life Specialist Katy Hoskins reads to Jacob Richardson, a patient in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The goal of reading and facilitating play in the NICU addresses the developmental milestones that could be impacted by a prolonged stay in the hospital.

Certified Child Life Specialist Holly Tugman works with patient Antoniyah Parker in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital. Providing tools and strategies familiar to children and teens helps support their coping which in turn leads to better outcomes. In this photo, Holly is facilitating distraction during an IV placement allowing the child to successfully cope with the procedure.

Certified Child Life Specialist Katie Beard plays with patient Jennifer Walker in the Outpatient Hematology-Oncology Clinic at Children’s Hospital. Playing with medical toys helps children become familiar with, begin to understand and become less fearful of the health care environment.

Certified Child Life Specialist Katie Beard helps patient Cora Greeson, pick out her Beads of Courage. The beads are a visual way to help patients recognize milestones in their health care experience, and are one of many innovative programs that child life staff use to help children and their families coping with serious illnesses.

Certified Child Life Specialist Ty Jackson plays UNO with Children’s Hospital patient Sebastian Hanks. Child life specialists use their expertise in therapeutic play to identify and meet the psychosocial needs of children and teens in the health care setting. During play, children and teens have the opportunity to express emotions and experience normalcy in an environment that does not always feel normal.

Certified Child Life Specialist Allie Leidy plays with patient Scarlett Jernigan. One of many goals of a Certified Child Life Specialist is to provide a sense a normalcy in the hospital. Play allows children to engage in a normal activity in an abnormal space.

Certified Child Life Specialist Chloe Lainhart plays with patient Gabrielle Meacham, who happily ponders what to do next with a toy ambulance. Engaging in play with items that are familiar and related to a hospital setting, allows a child to play out their hospital experiences and offers a sense of control over their past or current medical encounters.

Certified Child Life Specialist Dee Baddley helps calm and soothe patient Charlie Gemmill, as Jeff Martus, MD, professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Nick Blackmon, an orthopaedic cast technician, work with Charlie’s cast. The child life specialist works as a member of the interdisciplinary team to support patients during procedures with the goal of decreasing pain and traumatization.

Child life assistant Lindsay Dugger assists patient Sandra Zamora in making slime. Child life assistants work as members of the child life team to promote play in ways to normalize the environment and promote normal growth and development through age-appropriate activities. In addition to providing play and activities at the bedside, child life assistants oversee play and activities in the five pediatric playrooms at Children’s Hospital.

Certified Child Life Specialist Arielle Silverman creates a handprint of an adult patient receiving care in the Critical Care Tower. Supporting children of adult patients includes offering developmentally appropriate explanations of illness and treatment and may sometimes include providing legacy items and education for end-of-life situations.

Certified Child Life Specialist Lisa Kimball works with patient Paige Robinson and Paige’s dad Stewart Robinson. A child life specialist sees patients of all ages. When facilitating play opportunities with infants it’s important to involve parents to encourage attachment. A child life specialist supports both the parent and child when play takes place at the bedside.


Child Life, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, photo story