My name is Alanna and I am a Health Play Specialist. I work closely with the child’s healthcare team to provide quality and compassionate care for our paediatric patients. My role is to use play as a therapeutic tool to support the children and their family’s while they are in the hospital and to help them understand their illness and treatments.
I organise daily activities in the playroom and at the bedside, use medical play to help prepare and distract children for procedures they may receive, and also help them express any concerns or anxieties they may have. Play sessions encourage their stimulation and development throughout their stay as well as helping to keep them motivated. We use real (and safe) medical equipment to help educate and prepare the children before procedures.
Using medical play in a safe environment where the child can act as the nurse or doctor provides them an opportunity to be in control and familiarises them with what they will experience. My role is important for creating positive experiences in the hospital and to minimise what can be a traumatising time. I also arrange parties for the children’s birthdays, special occasions such as Easter, Christmas and Eid, as well as parties to celebrate the last day of treatment for long term patients. I am an advocate for the children and their families and I am part of the multi-disciplinary team who supports them throughout their hospitalisation. Play is an essential part of childhood; it is not only fun but it is how children learn and express themselves.
What made you choose this career?
I have always enjoyed working with children of all ages and I find the medical aspect interesting as there is always something new to learn. Being in hospital is a difficult time no matter what age you are, and I find it very rewarding to be able to put a smile on the children’s face and be the one to provide positive memories during hospitalisation.
Describe a typical day in your department?
As a Play Specialist each day is very different and varies depending on what our patients are in for, the age of the patients and what their needs are. Usually the first thing I do when I arrive is set up the playroom and ensure the area and toys are clean. I gather information on the patients who will be in that day and liaise with the nurses to see if there are any patients which may need to be seen as a priority. If we have patients going down to the operating theatre I will meet them before to assess their needs and to provide some developmentally appropriate preparation for them, which may include medical play, a PICU visit (Paediatric Intensive Care Unit), and distraction in the anaesthetic room if needed. When a child is receiving any procedure on the ward such as a cannula, the nurse can let me know if I am needed to help distract.
The nurse may call me at any time of the day so I always need to be aware that my plan for the day may change. When I am not providing procedural preps or interventions I will check in with each of the patients to see if there is any activities or toys they would like to have at the bedside, and plan therapeutic play sessions for patients who are in for a longer period of time. Throughout my day I liaise with the various members of the medical team and I also refer patients who I think would benefit from our other psychosocial activities which includes Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Pet Therapy and the school teachers we have on ward.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I enjoy being the friendly person the child looks forward to seeing in the hospital. Usually they will meet a lot of people such as doctors, nurses, physios, dieticians and psychologist, but as soon as they hear that I am a Play Specialist they often feel more relaxed and look forward to what I can provide for them as “play” something they can relate to.
My favourite part of the job is not just the influence that I have in the treatment of a child but also the impact that I have on them on a personal level. When I hear that a child was asking for me when they first woke up in the morning or that a long term patient didn’t want to come to hospital that day but were looking forward to seeing me, makes my job a little extra special- it’s the little things that can make a difference to them and also to me. Aside from the serious role of being a Play Specialist it is also gives me the chance to act like child on a daily basis!
What are you most proud of in your role?
I feel most proud in my role when I see my play interventions help build confidence and reduce a child’s fear and anxiety. For example, I worked with a child who was a long term patient who received an uncomfortable procedure on a weekly basis. When he first arrived with us he really struggled with this procedure and was often reluctant to let the nurses proceed. This made it distressing for not only him, but also his parents. It took many sessions of building up trust, using medical play to demonstrate the procedure step by step on a doll, reward charts, and distraction during the procedure. Finally, one day he felt comfortable enough and was ready to complete the procedure without any distress or reluctance- he was amazing and coped brilliantly. I felt rewarded that the time I had spent with him had contributed to reaching our goal and I went home that day feeling incredibly proud of him and what we had achieved.
It is moments like this that motivate me in my job, when I see the benefit that my role has on the children and their increased ability to manage their treatments.
Do you have a motto? Or a life rule?
I believe you should treat everyone how you wish to be treated; I always try to put myself in the family’s shoes to try to understand how I would feel in their situation and how I would like someone to support me. Everyone copes with being in hospital in a different ways but if there is something I can do to reduce their stress and support them then I will try my best to provide it.
What inspires you?
The children inspire me and they are the reason I enjoy coming to work every day. They are so resilient and even when they have been through the most difficult situations they still manage to put a smile on my face. They teach me every day to be thankful for what I have and to always have fun!
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I played football (soccer!) in the USA for 4 years, which is where I qualified as a Child Life Specialist (the USA equivalent of Play Specialist).
For more information on our paediatric services visit The Harley Street Children’s Hospital