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Family and Consumer Sciences

College of Education and Professional Studies

CWU Responds to Healthcare Needs with New Master’s Degree

Students with child in the hospitalCentral Washington University is expanding its degree offerings to help fill regional healthcare employment needs. The board recently approved a master’s of science in family and child life, making it the only degree of its kind offered in the Pacific Northwest.

CWU graduates can now fill certified child life specialist positions nationwide. But, ideally, these jobs will stay local with graduates working at any of the eight or more Children’s Hospitals in Washington and Oregon.

Child life specialists provide psychosocial services in children’s hospitals and other medical settings to help children and their families cope with the stress of medical treatment.

Prior to the creation of the new program at Central, there were only six child life graduate programs located on the west coast--none in Oregon or Washington. Graduates from other states traditionally accept jobs in the Northwest, then return to their home states—leaving vacancies. Consequently, regional hospitals have had challenges in staffing these high demand positions.

“We are going to grow our own to better fill Washington’s and Oregon’s healthcare deficits,” said Duane Dowd, family and consumer sciences chair. “We’ve worked closely with regional hospitals to ensure our program and, in turn, our graduates meet their needs.”

The master’s degree previously existed under a different name, as a specialization, and focused on preparing students to work with families in social service settings. Restructuring and renaming the program allows CWU to expand it to prepare students to become child life specialists. These changes also aid in student recruitment and to meet accreditation requirements of the Child Life Council, a nonprofit professional association of child life specialists.

Central’s new offering comes at a pivotal time. Beginning in 2022, a master’s degree will be required to become a certified child life specialist. Although this is not a current requirement, the industry has shown a growing trend in master’s level education for those in the profession. CWU is further ensuring its graduates are prepared to be competitive in the job market.

In addition to careers in children’s hospitals, graduates are eligible for advanced career opportunities in family service agencies, parent education programs, family counseling centers, and other family life education settings or doctoral study in family relations. The master’s is also attractive to those currently working in the field who wish to advance in administration.

Nationally, the demand for certified child life specialists has grown substantially. According to the Mayo Clinic, the field of child life has consistently grown over the last decade. Future projections are expected to increase 19 percent through 2018 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

For more information about the Family and Child Life program and degree options, contact Amy Claridge at 509-963-2758 or by email

Media contact: Dawn Alford, public affairs coordinator, 509-963-1484,

October 3, 2016

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