A Letter to Child Life Students; Finding Hope After Rejection

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Guest Blogger, Belinda Hammond from Child Life Connection 

The gift of time….

I hear from so many students about the frustrations of applying to practicums and internships, and as we know, the process isn’t as easy as we’d hope. I’ve had several students share that they don’t know how to accept or deal with rejection….in my mind, getting a “no” on a clinical application isn’t a rejection. Here are my thoughts….

When I decided to make the return to child life about 10 years ago after leaving to pursue a doctoral degree (which I never finished due to health issues), I had relocated to an area that had no child life and no children’s hospitals. I began by presenting the idea to my local community hospital, but couldn’t convince them they had the need, even though I recognized it as my own children received medical care in their facility. I started seeking out other community hospitals in the area and found two with pediatric beds and both were interested in child life, but neither had the funding to add a position….but, both saw potential in the philosophies of child life and how they could impact their pediatric patients. I decided to start doing consulting work, first as a volunteer for 6 months in each of the two programs to see what I could do and how I could best impact my local programs. Through my child life lens, I saw a playroom that wasn’t inviting for children and was used as a storage closet more than a playroom. I saw an opportunity to make a difference and reintroduce play to these patients. I reached out to a local university, and found a team of artists looking for a capstone project, and together we re-created an amazing pediatric playroom. From there I found a grant and funded 25 more original mural for hospitals throughout the region that also provided medical care to pediatric patients. I introduced myself to several non-profit agencies that offered a range of opportunities for play (from mobile playrooms to technology to individual toys and crafts) and began developing play programs for my local hospitals, and they began to see the impact child life philosophies could have on their patients and families. Today, two of the programs in my region now have a child life specialist on staff, with a third preparing to offer child life within the next year. I have also become an active board member of one of the non-profit agencies, and am able to introduce their program to other hospitals around the country!

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I was “lucky” that I had a salary coming from part time teaching in community college (something I had done since working as a CCLS in-hospital) – I could afford to volunteer to get my consulting started. Eventually I moved on to teaching university level (undergraduate and graduate courses), but was always a “freeway flyer” because that meant I could continue teaching, and continue building my consulting service, while also pursuing a doctorate degree. I received a postcard while in my doctorate program about training to teach online, and thought about how nice it would be to not have to travel so much to teach, and signed up! And it was because of my studies that I had a meeting with our university’s extension program about my dissertation idea (to pilot an inservice training online) that we started talking about what I do. About 2 months before this meeting, I found an online class in need of an instructor for a single semester while its regular instructor was on maternity leave, and I was able to showcase the portion of the class I had developed, and was offered the chance to teach this class once again for my own university. What started as a single class turned into an entire academic certificate program, and what started as the opportunity to create one program turned into three. Because of this “chance” meeting, 7 other CCLS’ were also able to start teaching online there as well! Remember, online child life wasn’t even a “thing” when I started pursuing it!

So why am I telling you about my path? Because if you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be now professionally, I would never in my wildest dreams have said that I’d be successfully working again in child life while being able to work around my kids schedules (I work from home, teaching online full time) but making what I know is an incredible impact on children in hospitals around the globe. There was no job listing for my consulting role or the creation of my first academic program in child life. I simply took the time to create new challenges for myself, and those next steps in my career path made perfect sense once I got there.

The one thing that didn’t make sense at the time was the first child life program where I volunteered in-hospital for 6 months, and then for 2 years supporting their mural development and play programs through consulting…..I was offered their first paid child life role, and for reasons I still don’t understand, it ended up going to someone else who was already a hospital employee with a child development background, but no child life experience. I was devastated, not because I didn’t get the job, but because I felt I had gone above and beyond anything they asked of me with the promise that when the job was available, it would be mine.

Why do I bring up this “heartbreak”? Because at about this same time, my son started having health issues that were soon diagnosed as Epilepsy….and I decided to home school him until we could get better control of his seizure activity. What a gift it turned out to be that I wasn’t working 90 minutes from home, and that I was able to teach online and be able to be with him and supporting both his education and his health. And while it was tough to see in that moment, what a gift it was that the job I had worked so hard for wasn’t meant to be mine. An even great gift is finding out one of my former students took on that CCLS role a few weeks ago, and without the path that I found myself on, that program wouldn’t have existed and she would never have been my student. I truly believe this is the path we were both meant to take!

BelindaHammond&JustinAnd while home schooling my son, I decided to enroll in a few classes to learn how to better support some of my son’s physical challenges ( he was also born with low muscle tone and had several challenges as a result) – and enrolled in two classes that focused on exercise & sports physiology and motor learning. I found many similarities between these courses and the supports I had provided in hospital, so in addition to utilizing my new skills with my son, continued to take classes that I thought would help me professionally. I reached the point where I had completed all of the classes and had only research classes remaining for a new masters degree, and thought it made sense to complete these as preparation for returning to my doctoral studies!

I should also add that while my doctoral studies were always a part of my plan, that first attempt ended with both myself and my newborn experiencing significant health issues, and I had to decide which direction to focus my attention on (obviously, health won!). I reinstated about 10 years later and that was the reason for my meeting on a pilot study for my dissertation….and found myself having to decide between my doctorate once again or creating an online academic program in child life (know that opportunity might never appear again, I jumped at the chance), and then found myself unable to reinstate again to complete my degree. I’m now pursuing a new doctorate which better fits my experiences over the past 20 years, but I have to say that I absolutely love the academic path I’m now on, focusing on Educational Leadership (although I have so many more insights and experiences because of my previous studies in Special Education, Disabilities and Risk Studies, and both absolutely influence who I am both professionally and personally)!

I have so many stories I could share of connections and timings that have made so many opportunities possible – not just for me, but for my colleagues and my student/colleagues! Timing isn’t about what you think should be happening and when, but I absolutely believe it has more to do with the universe holding a plan for each of us – for finding us those perfect opportunities and the perfect time, and we may not understand they “why’s” until we’re able to look back on the entire timeline of what happened beyond that “no” and that guided us towards the right “yes”, how that was the path we were meant to be on. Let go of your frustrations (I know, easier said than done) and find those opportunities that speak to you the most, and run with them! And don’t give up on your dreams….know that not every dream needs to become a reality right then and there, and that there’s meaning to every experience and that those experiences will make you stronger in whatever you pursue! The right path for each of us is to continue reaching for goals, and knowing goals can lead you down a different path than you anticipated, but that crazy unanticipated path can still help you achieve those same goals. Allow yourself the opportunity to experience more than what you planned, but what you were meant to experience!

BelindaHammondBelinda Hammond, M.A., M.S., CCLS, CIMI. Ms. Hammond is the founder of Child Life Connection, a consulting service created to build or enhance play opportunities in medical facilities providing services for pediatric patients, and to provide/support Child Life/Therapeutic Play programs for pediatric settings, all in an effort to make being in the hospital less scary for children. Ms. Hammond currently is a full time lecturer with Eastern Washington University (Children’s Studies/Child Life & Health), and a part time lecturer with American Public University (Human Development & Family Studies/Child Life) and California State University Northridge (Child & Adolescent Development/Child Life). Ms. Hammond is currently completing her doctoral studies in Educational Leadership through California State University Channel Islands/Fresno, and holds a B.A. in Child Development and an M.A. in Educational Psychology/Early Childhood Education with a specialization in Play Therapy (both from California State University Northridge) and an M.S. in Sports and Health Science (from American Public University).

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Tips when Applying to Graduate School for Child Life

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The Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP) will soon require specialists to have an advanced degree in child life in order to sit for the certification exam. As you begin your journey to become a Certified Child Life Specialist or if you are currently working with an undergrad degree and would like to strengthen your academic and skill set, graduate school might be something to consider.

Our guest blogger today is child life students at the University of Georgia, who are part of Little Lives Matter, a student led organization. They will be sharing tips in applying to graduate school.

1. Research, Research, Research 

Not every graduate school and program and going to be right for everyone so make sure you do your research and see what you are looking for in a program, how the program is set up, and which programs are going to be best for you and what you want to get out of the graduate experience

2. Contact the Program Directors

Call or email program directors and ask questions concerning the curriculum, what they look for in graduate students, what the admissions process is like, tentative dates on finding out if you got an interview and when you would find out acceptance, and how you can prepare for an interview if you were to receive one

3. Apply to multiple schools

Decide on a few schools that suit you and apply to multiple. Expand your search and don’t be scared to apply to programs outside of your comfort zone.

4. GET ORGANIZED

Once you have decided on where you want to apply, get organized. Go to each program’s website and see exactly what you need to get in, know what you have to submit and when the deadline is. Most schools require letters of recommendation, it’s best to ask for these letters in advance from when they are due. Make a list of each school in order of when their application deadline is and start working on each application.

5. No Procrastination

Don’t wait until the last minute to start working on applications and reaching out to the program directors. It’s a long process and it takes time.

6. STAY CALM

Even though it’s a very stressful time of trying to meet deadlines and making sure not to forget things, it can get overwhelming at times. Just relax and have patience.

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Little Lives Matter is a student led organization at the University of Georgia that exists to create community among all undergraduate and graduate students in the field of Child Life. We exist to empower students in professional development and identity through networking and learning opportunities to connect with those in the profession of child life and other related fields. We exist to educate our campus and community on the importance of the field through awareness, public relations and community outreach. Finally, we exist to encourage the pediatric community through service towards the patients, families and staff.

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Tips on Landing a Child Life Practicum

Navigating the Road to become a Certified Child Life Specialist

Tips on Landing a Child Life Practicum

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As the child life profession grows we are facing some challenges with not having enough internship placements for the amount of students that apply. It is becoming incredibly competitive, but students are giving up their goal of becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist.

I’m excited to share our guest blogger today, Ashley Bain from Peace, Hope and Play who has some great tips on landing a child life practicum, which will hopefully advance your chances for an internship spot.

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Those in the child life field know that it is VERY competitive. One does their best to stand out amongst countless applicants. Many hours with healthy children, hospitalized children, unique experiences (Make-A-Wish, camps) and so on and so forth. But what else can one do to make themselves standout more during an internship process?

PRACTIUCM!

When looking into practicums two questions are frequently asked:

  1. How do you go about securing a practicum?
  2. What are the benefits of a practicum?  

First things first: don’t get overwhelmed when looking into practicums. Becoming overwhelmed causes unnecessary stress, unhealthy habits and a negative outlook on your current situation. Instead, do the following to make yourself less stressed and more organized:

  1. Make a list of the hospitals that you want to apply to (do this yourself! Don’t ask others for a list. Making your own list and doing your own research shows you what each hospital can offer and if it is truly a fit for YOU).
  2. Print each hospitals requirements out. This way you can mark off what you already have for each hospital.
  3. Remember to relax! You are doing the best you can.

Now onto the next step…

Requirements

  • Have volunteer hours with hospitalized children/under a Certified Child Life Specialist. Each hospital may have a different amount of hours that must be met. Try to get 100 hours if possible.
  • Have volunteer hours with healthy children (childcare, church, camps etc.). Again some hospitals may have a different amount of hours that must be met. Try to get 100 hours if possible.
  • Have a good GPA (minimum 3.0 on a 4.0 scale)
  • Recommendation letters (could vary for each hospital)
  • Be affiliated with a university (some hospitals could take unaffiliated students).
  • Have completed some courses in child life, child development or other related studies. This could also vary for each hospital.
  • Make sure you check and recheck the hospitals websites. Sometimes a hospital may change their mind at the last second and choose not to offer a practicum. It is better to find out beforehand instead of receiving an email after the fact.

What are the benefits of a practicum?  

  • Observing Certified Child Life Specialist first hand in different areas of the hospital (ER, Peds, PICU, Oncology etc.)
  • Taking away new knowledge on what the practicum student observes.
  • Students continue to increase their knowledge of basic child life skills related to play, developmental assessment, and mixing child life theory into interventions with infants, children, teens and families. While volunteering sheds a little light on Child Life and what this team’s role is within the hospital, a practicum sets the stage for future plans, expectations and for an internship.
  • Having this amazing opportunity shows the individual if they are in the proper field.
  • Networking with child life professionals and making those rapports with other staff members, patients and families.
  • Having the opportunity to observe how the value of play is utilized to help the hospitalized child.
  • Prepares the student for the next step—a child life internship!

I hope this was helpful and encouraging to each of you and I hope you become successful in the field known as child life.

One final reminder: When you are in a rough spot and you don’t know if you will ever get through the struggles of finding a practicum or internship remember why you started and remember that giving up is not an option. You can do it!

To learn more about Ashley, you can follow her blog at Peace, Hope and Play

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