The Elevator Talk
Describe what you do, in ten seconds or less. For some of you, no doubt this is a very easy task. For the child life specialists (among others!) out there, I know that this is nearly impossible.
Picture this: you’re in the elevator, carrying an assortment of board games or, more probably, an unlikely assortment of items like IV tubing, a couple of Insyte needles, poker chips, and a stuffed frog. You stop on the third floor and in steps someone in a nice suit, without stains of what may be urine or may be water color on their scrub pants- and they ask you what you do. You say, “I’m a child life specialist!” Cue the blank stare.
Child life, while a wonderful field, is not an illustrative term for what we do- and to be fair, it’s hard to come up with a short title anyway, since what we do is a bit of a moving target. For many of us, the day-to-day tasks can change on a moment’s notice.
Luckily for me, I have a sister with a fancy degree in linguistics- as she puts it, words are her business. Early on, I asked her what I should say in these elevator or cocktail party scenarios when asked what I do, and because she’s smart and wonderful, she immediately came up with about sixteen different things I could say. The one I have used the most often is, “pediatric developmentalist,” and it’s such a handy little phrase, at once accurately illustrative, yet unspecific! Perfect for when I have to answer in ten seconds or less!
One day, child life specialists may spend an hour in rounds, a half hour preparing a child for an EEG, and three hours supporting the child during the EEG; while the next day, we spend ten minutes in rounds, two hours in the palliative care meeting, and an hour playing Candyland in the playroom with a seven-year-old, holding a four-month-old infant on our lap. The following week, we may be supporting a teen during a rape kit or supporting a family grieving the loss of a child. How on earth can this job be summed up in just a few words?
So here’s my question- as a child life specialist, or someone who knows and loves a child life specialist, how would you succinctly describe child life?
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!