CWU News

CWU Students Learning to Use 'Medical Play' to Comfort, Distract Kids Stuck in Hospital

For kids — or anyone, for that matter — spending a significant amount of time in the hospital is not a fun experience.

But a new master’s program at Central Washington University is training students to help make the hospital environment as friendly as possible for children who must undergo stressful medical procedures.

Girls Playing with ChildThe program, a master’s of science in family and child life, was officially board-approved earlier this month, making it the only degree of its kind offered in the Pacific Northwest, according to Central. This is the second year the master’s degree has been offered at the school.

Child life specialists work alongside doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists in hospital settings to comfort and support pediatric patients.

“It’s not to provide long-term psychological help for the family ... but really to step in and normalize the environment for children in the short term, using language that children understand,” said Amy Claridge, Central program director and assistant professor. “It’s bringing play and fun into the hospital environment to distract children from procedures that might be happening.”

That might look like “medical play,” where kids play with the actual medical equipment to become more familiar and less frightened of it — handling syringes without needles, for example, or practicing a medical procedure on a doll.

While there isn’t yet comprehensive research into whether child life specialists actually result in better medical outcomes for patients, Claridge said, there is plenty of research to support the benefit of procedural preparations, as well as the benefit of therapeutic play in the hospital as a means of distraction.

And the university is involved in current research into the impact of child life specialists, specifically.

“We have a pretty small sample, but already, it shows that the children who receive child life services report having less anxiety in the hospital and less stress, and their parents are reporting less anxiety, as well,” Claridge said.

That applies both to kids who are in the hospital long-term and for those who just come in for routine or one-time emergency situations.

Child life specialists are a standard part of the care team in large children’s hospitals, including Seattle Children’s, but they are much rarer in rural hospitals like those in Central and Eastern Washington, Claridge said. The university’s program aims to alleviate some of that disparity and bring needed resources to kids on this side of the state.

Read more of this story at the Yakima Herald.

By Molly Rosbach, Yakima Herald reporter

October 18, 2016