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 Frequently Asked Questions - Child Life Profession

​Work life of a Child Life Specialist

How much medical knowledge is required for a Child Life Specialist?

It is recommended that prospective Child Life interns take Medical Terminology in college, and a Medical Terminology class is a requirement for our internship. 

Doctors and medical team members use medical terminology in patient charts, which Child Life Specialists and Child Life interns read to better understand how to help patients and families. 

Child Life Specialists need to also know medical knowledge when preparing a child for surgery, procedures and exams. Additionally, prospective Child Life interns should have some knowledge of childhood illnesses. Although not required, a course in anatomy and physiology is beneficial.

How does therapeutic play contribute to medical care?

Children spend the majority of their time playing, which is their form of learning. Child Life Specialists engage patients in therapeutic play for normalization to help them cope and to reduce stress and anxiety. 

Therapeutic play helps Child Life Specialists build relationships and clear up misconceptions children may have about medical settings. Therapeutic play can assist to normalize and desensitize hospital experiences. 

It also can enhance a child's creativity and allow them to express their concerns about hospital experiences.

How does a Child Life Specialist prepare children for procedures?

Child Life Specialists prepare children for procedures in a number of different ways. They use teaching dolls to help children understand different parts of their body and demonstrate placement of medical equipment on the body. 

Preparation kits are used to desensitize equipment and allow for mastery. Child Life Specialists may use photos on iPads, DVDs and models to help children understand what to expect regarding an upcoming procedure or scan.

How does a Child Life Specialist distract patients during a procedure?

A Child Life Specialist first assesses the developmental age of a patient, taking into consideration patient interests and procedure type. 

The Child Life Specialist then chooses developmentally appropriate distraction items or offers relaxation techniques to help reduce a patient's stress and anxiety and increase coping during a procedure.

What age groups do Child Life Specialists work with?

Child Life Specialists work with children from birth to 18 years old. At some facilities they may treat patients up to age 21.

What areas and populations do Child Life Specialists work in?

Common areas that Child Life Specialists work in are emergency department, operating room, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and pediatric units. In addition to working with patients, Child Life Specialists may work with siblings of patients. 

Child Life Specialist also can work in adult units such as Adult Oncology areas, Critical Care Units, Intensive Care Unit and palliative care. On adult units, Child Life Specialists work with children and grandchildren of hospitalized adult patients. 

Other areas where Child Life may be present are outpatient clinics, child advocacy centers and in non-traditional settings such as, dentist offices, hospice programs, the judicial system and private practices.

What type of special activities does a Child Life Specialist engage in with patients?

Special activities offered depends on the Child Life program. For example, every weekday at Marshfield Children's Hospital, children ages 4 to 18 have the opportunity to participate in a group activity to promote social interaction and mastery. 

Toddler and adolescent groups are also offered on a weekly basis. Child Life Specialists assess individual needs of patients to determine appropriate goal-focused bedside activities including playing games, making crafts or spending one-on-one time together. 

Some benefits of these activities include normalization, increased coping and reaching developmental milestones. Marshfield Children's Hospital also provides pet therapy for patients. Pet therapy may help to create therapeutic interactions between patients and trained pets that assist in reducing stress and anxiety.

A Board Certified Music Therapist provides music therapy to patients focusing on relaxation, pain management, self-expression and sensory stimulation.

Child Life Specialists at Marshfield Children's Hospital also provide holiday parties including Halloween, Christmas, Easter and birthday celebrations for patients and their families.

Pathway to the Child Life profession

What schools offer programs or degrees to become a Child Life Specialist?

There is one college in Wisconsin that offers coursework specific to Child Life, Edgewood College in Madison. 

This program offers a degree in Child Life. Other universities in Wisconsin only offer degrees in Human Development and Family Studies, Child Development, Psychology and Sociology. Requirements for these degrees offer classes related to child and adolescent development, family systems, learning, play, stress/coping, separation and loss. 

However, due to the new requirements to sit for the certification exam, a Child Life degree is necessary for an internship and career. If a student is interested in a Child Life career, it is strongly recommended to research Child Life programs in Wisconsin and across the United States.

What are the prerequisites when applying for an internship in Child Life?

The prerequisites when applying for an internship vary between different Child Life programs. 

Prospective Child Life interns must complete coursework from a bachelor or master's degree program in Child Life, Child/Family Development, Family Dynamics, Human Development, Psychology, Sociology, Counseling or Therapeutic Recreation with an emphasis in Child Life. 

The Child Life program at Marshfield Children's Hospital requires applicants to take Medical Terminology, Child and Adolescent Development and highly recommends Anatomy and Physiology, Ethics, Cultural Diversity, Parenting and Family Relationships, Group Dynamics, Stress and Coping, Research Methods, Crisis Intervention and Death and Dying. Our program also requires students to review resources related to hospitalization of a child prior to starting internships.

Is a bachelor's degree in Child Life required to do an internship or to be a Child Life Specialist?

Reference eligibility requirements on ChildLife.org >

Are there many Child life job opportunities available?

Child Life is a competitive field. With expansion of hospitals and children's hospitals, there has been an increased demand for Child Life Specialists. It is important to focus on Child Life specific coursework and to volunteer with well and hospitalized children to be a part of the competitive field. Relocation may be necessary to obtain the best job opportunities.

What are the salary ranges for Child Life Specialists?

Salary ranges depend on location, cost of living and program size. The average starting salary in the Midwest ranges from $18 to $21 per hour.