August 07, 2015

Andrea: Exploring Child and Family Life

Medical student works with pediatric patient

As the first UMMS student to enroll in the pilot Child and Family Life Med Student Practicum, M2 Andrea wasn’t quite sure what to expect during her seven-week experience.

Working with members of the Child and Family Life team at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Andrea spent time with a different child life specialist each week, volunteered in the siblings program, shadowed physicians, performed research and brainstormed new ways to get pediatric patients to interact. She was also able to coordinate timing with her Student Biomedical Research Program project as she immersed herself in this different side of patient care. Here she shares how responding to an email can take you on an unexpected but fulfilling journey…

"I initially became interested in the area of Child and Family Life because it seemed like such a positive aspect of the pediatric care team here in Mott and I wanted to know more about it. I thought it would be interesting to experience how this side of the treatment team operated and what their role is as a part of the bigger care team.

I interacted with patients in fun ways while exploring new areas of pediatric care. The highlight for me was being able to spend time each week in a new pediatric department and experience what the pace and feeling of that department is like. Each floor is completely different from the others, and the role of child life, nurses and physicians varied from floor to floor as well. Seeing all of that come to life was an incredible experience for me.

I especially loved working on the hematology/oncology floor and getting to know the kids and families on a deeper level. One of the biggest challenges was knowing what to say and how to act in different situations. It’s awkward the first few times you knock and enter a patient’s room to talk with them and their family—especially on floors like hematology/oncology where the child and a parent may be mostly living in their hospital room. As you open that door you are entering their home, and to some extent, inviting yourself in. However, after five weeks of working on the floor, it felt very natural and I could tell that the families were more at ease because I was at ease. The parents knew I was there simply to brighten their child’s day with some toys, games or crafts, and the kids – especially those who are on precaution and cannot leave their rooms – appreciated a friendly face to come in and hang out.

The Child and Family Life team is an invaluable part of our care here at Mott. The services that they provide are widespread and varied depending on the individual department needs, but a common theme that I saw on all floors was that Child Life helps to take away some of the fear of procedures for kids and helps them to associate positive experiences and feelings with being in the hospital.

While I do not have plans to personally continue what I have started in the Child and Family Life Med Student Practicum, I do plan to help further develop this program and advocate for more students to take part in it.

I have gained a better understanding of what life is like for patients living with chronic and acute illnesses and for their families. It has shown me what the whole picture looks like, not just the medical side.

Andrea, U-M medical student

Michigan is a teaching hospital, and it is very easy to find mentors and get involved with programs/projects that match your personal interests – you just have to put yourself out there and ask around. From my experience, those who work here are excited to share all they can with you.”