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Certified Child Life Specialist, Jessica Correnti, MS, CCLS, CEIM, works with a pediatric patient in GBMC's Pediatric Inpatient Unit and Emergency Department.

Making the Emergency Room Less Scary for Kids

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Laura Zabriskie

January 12, 2018
Little Brendan fell off the monkey bars at school and split his eyebrow. When his father, Mr. Mannion, got the call, he was instantly filled with anxiety. He had a negative emergency room experience as a child and was worried that the same thing would happen to his son. All of that changed when Jennifer walked into the room.

As a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) in GBMC's Pediatric Inpatient Unit and Emergency Department, Jennifer Seiler, M.Ed., CCLS regularly works with children and families in distress. A trip to the emergency room can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for a child who is already in pain. The hospital setting is also full of foreign noises, people, and equipment. Anything that helps normalize the situation for a child can immensely reduce the amount of anxiety that they experience. This is where the work of a Certified Child Life Specialist starts.

"One of the best parts of my job is hearing from a family or child that their experience wasn't as bad as they thought it would be," says Jennifer.

When a CCLS meets with a child, he or she quickly assesses the child's state and creates an individualized plan to cope with their hospitalization. The plan is tailored to each patient's age, temperament, and level of understanding. When stressors and misconceptions are identified, the CCLS works to alleviate those fears as quickly as possible, often involving some type of play. Needing an IV is one of the biggest stressors for children. To help with this, each CCLS keeps an IV catherater easily accessible on his or her badge. This enables them to quickly show the child what an IV is and explain to them exactly what is actually going to happen. "One of our goals is to make sure that there are no surprises while they’re in the hospital," states Jennifer.

One of the ways they achieve this is through the use of blank cloth dolls, which they call “hospital buddies.” When explaining a procedure, the CCLS will show the child what will happen to him or her on one of these dolls. The child can help to perform the mock procedure on the doll. This allows children to familiarize themselves with the medical equipment and gives them back a sense of control.

The techniques worked wonders for 4-year-old Brendan, who needed sutures after his fall from the school monkey bars. “What could have been a scary ER visit instead became a fun afternoon at the ‘doctor’s’ office,” his parents wrote in a letter to express their thanks.

It is difficult for doctors and nurses to work with patients who are frightened or resistant. With a CCLS present, stress is reduced for both the medical staff and the patients, which means more efficient treatment, less need to administer calming medications, and better health outcomes.

In many cases, like Brendan’s, a trip to the emergency room is a child's first experience with healthcare. GBMC’s CCLS team does everything it can to make sure that it is a good one. "We want kids to know that the hospital is somewhere they go to feel better," Jennifer explains. When they have a positive experience early on, children are more likely to utilize healthcare throughout their lives.
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