Doernbecher’s Child Life specialists: “We’re here for you and you can do this”

This Child Life Month, we’re celebrating the team that supports the emotional and developmental needs of children and families while they’re at Doernbecher. Below, Child Life specialists Peggy Adams, Kimberly Kuehnert and Hannah Ono explain why they chose this career path and how it can be both rewarding and challenging.

Why did you decide to become a Child Life Specialist?

My decision to become a Child Life Specialist (CCLS) came in a roundabout way. All throughout high school, I was working toward becoming a pre-med major in college, but life intervened at the end of my sophomore year in the form of a leukemia diagnosis and over 100 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. I don’t think I was the best Child Life patient, but I do remember finally giving in to a CCLS who was trying to get this angry teenager to do some stamp artwork.

Our amazing Child Life team! Back row, pictured from left: Peggy Adams, Hannah Ono, Jan Crider, Allison Laurenza, Beth Christian. Front Row: Kim Kuehnert, Sandra Westfall, Hospital Facility Dog Hope, Susan Sherwood. Not pictured: Rebekah  Coles and Jess Calvert

Our amazing Child Life team! Back row, pictured from left: Peggy Adams, Hannah Ono, Jan Crider, Allison Laurenza, Beth Christian. Front Row: Kim Kuehnert, Sandra Westfall, Hospital Facility Dog Hope, Susan Sherwood. Not pictured: Rebekah Coles and Jess Calvert

Despite my best efforts, I had to let go of pursuing a pre-med degree but I still knew that I wanted to work in the healthcare field. I didn’t really consider a career in the Child Life profession until Peggy let me shadow her for a day and offered to let me do a Child Life practicum with her. It took a few years of moving around hospitals but I’m happy to have landed in the Outpatient Pediatric Hem/Onc and Infusion Clinic here at Doernbecher!
–Hannah

What’s the best part about the Child Life profession?

The best part of my job is having a family let you into their lives when they’re at their most vulnerable. Sharing in their sorrows and joy and easing their pain is one of the mast satisfying experiences I know. –Kimberly

We take joy in the little things, like when a little girl learns to face her fear of getting her port accessed by singing Katy Perry’s “Roar” song, roaring when the port needle goes in and dancing off her sadness to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” So much life and joy happens within our hospital walls, and that’s something that we don’t often realize or remember. –Hannah

What’s the most difficult part about your job?

I think one of the most challenging things is prioritizing patient needs when you know that there are so many patients who have needs and there are only so many hours in the day. –Peggy

You never want to see kids, teens or young adults sick. It can be especially difficult working in the pediatric hem/onc clinic because diagnoses are so serious and treatment can be hard for our kids. Although working in the clinic sometimes reminds me of my own experiences in the hospital, I know that everyone has their own journey and interpretation of what’s going on. The rewards of working with these patients definitely outweigh any challenges that I’ve come across. –Hannah

What encouragement or advice would you give Doernbecher families?

Some very good things can come out of very difficult times. I’ve seen amazing strength and I’ve seen families coming together to communicate better and rally together. Also, remember that you are your child’s best advocate, but you also need to care for yourself. Build in little breaks for yourself to re-energize – you’ll be better able to withstand the long haul. –Peggy

You have an entire team of people that are here for you, medically, socially and emotionally. We will laugh with you and cry with you, supporting you on your journey and reminding you of the strength and courage you have within you. –Kimberly

You can do this. When faced with whatever diagnosis, treatment or situation that brings you here to our hospital, you may seem overwhelmed and may not know where to start. Just remember that there are so many people here at Doernbecher, Child Life Specialists included, who are here to support you, your child and your family. Patients, parents, caregivers, siblings and others don’t often realize just how strong they are and what they’re capable of, so ask for help when or if needed. We’re here for you and you can do this. –Hannah

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Visit our Child Life program website to read about the activities and guidance it provides, and learn more about Doernbecher’s Family Resource Center website here. If you’d like to pass along a message to a member of our Child Life team, please comment below or email socialmedia@ohsu.edu and it will be passed along.

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About the Author

Lisa McMahan is a social media coordinator working to discover and share stories at OHSU. Got a story idea? Connect with the team: socialmedia@ohsu.edu.
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