The Elevator Talk

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!

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4 Comments

  1. We typically work in the hospital, with kids and families to help them cope. We teach them about what is happening to their body, prepare them for medical procedures, provide procedural support and use play and creative expression to help give them a voice. We run the playrooms, work with the WHOLE family and give a sense of normalcy.
    Whew! Yep, I can actually hear myself saying it out loud as I type it. Ha!

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  2. Great topic Emily! Child Life Mommy is right on! This past week our team chatted about this topic in relation to how we teach our interns to introduce child life services. We realize that everyone has a different style for giving the quick intro but we all agreed there are four topics to cover: assessment, education, play and emotional support. You can weave these in and out of any 30 second explanation dependent on your listener… A good exercise for those who need some practice on their elevator speech…write down what you would say verbatim then assign each sentence to one of these categories…any gaps? If not, you’re in good shape…if u find a gap fill it in! Before you know it you’ll have several intros in your mind for patients of different ages, caregivers, colleagues and friends!

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  3. I concur, having that elevator speech is always very important. Not only that, but you need to have different versions of it depending on who you are talking to and how much time you have. If I only have about 10 seconds though, I usually say that my job is to make it easier for children and families. If I get the cue that the listener is interested in hearing more, I explain in more detail. Or if I’m meeting a family for the first time, I explain how I am going to do that for the family right at that moment. I will say that I use this sentence more when talking to younger children than for individuals in suits. Usually for the latter group I say something along the lines of “I help the patient, family, and staff through developmentally appropriate support and education.”

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