Child Life

Child Life

Child Life at Children's Hospital

The Child Life Department is an essential part of Children's Hospital's focus on family-centered care. Led by Mary Pegler, Director, the staff members are trained and dedicated specifically to one crucial part of a child's daily life: play. Our Child Life Specialists ease anxiety through the power of play in a constructive, healing and educating manner. We currently have 15 staff members that serve as cheerleaders, confidantes and advocates to patients who may be frightened by or unfamiliar with the hospital setting. Beloved by patients, the Child Life Specialists at Children's Hospital believe in the power of play as a method of healing, growing and developing.

The field of Child Life began from the understanding that hospitalization can have a long-term negative impact on normal growth and development because of the stress it puts on children and their families. By assessing a child through play, a Child Life Specialist can gain insight into ways to help the child cope with the hospital experience. Children who receive a new diagnosis of a long-term illness are provided with as much additional attention as possible. Clinical nurse specialists (educators) provide technical information, and then the Child Life Specialist follows up with hands-on activities that reinforce the child's learning.


Facts About Child Life at Children's Hospital

The Child Life program began in 1978 with longtime staff members Laura Barnes, now the Vice President for Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer, and Eleanor Stevens. It was the first program of its kind in Tennessee and predates the Child Life Council, which is the governing body of the field. Since then, the department has grown to cover all inpatient units, the Emergency Department, outpatient clinics and the Radiology Department.


Here are some more interesting facts about Child Life at Children's Hospital:

  • Child Life staff at Children's Hospital are available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, even on holidays
  • Child Life staff and volunteers are assigned to various areas of the hospital: the Second and Third Floor inpatient medical units, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, the Outpatient Clinics and the Scott M. Niswonger Emergency Department.
  • The Child Life staff offers a tour for any child ages 3-11 who is scheduled for surgery. The tour shows children the places in the hospital they will visit as a patient and prepares them for what will happen. Participants watch a video and play with some medical instruments.
  • The Child Life staff helps patients and families celebrate holidays, birthdays and other family events that occur during the child's hospitalization. Donations from the community allow Child Life staff members to provide children with gifts on these occasions.

"We prepare children for tests, procedures and surgery and provide support during painful procedures, including using play and other techniques to distract the child and reduce stress during the procedure."

Kristin Wells, CCLS

Child Life Internships

East Tennessee Children's Hospital offers a Child Life internship program, where college students can work beside child life specialists in the hospital setting. If you would like information about our internship, including requirements, or if you would like to apply for an internship at Children's Hospital, please download and complete our Child Life internship application form. The Child Life internship position at Children's Hospital is unpaid.

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