Newswise — LOS ANGELES (March 16, 2023) -- Around Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s, Child Life Specialists are known for bringing the fun and the laughter, the toys and the celebrations. But more importantly, they know how to listen to children and explain medical conditions and treatments in ways children and parents can understand. 

“The whole premise of Child Life is to normalize the hospital environment and help children and teens navigate the healthcare experience,” said Sandie Sternberg, supervisor and certified child life specialist, noting that March is National Child Life Month.

For young children, helping could mean showing how to use real medical equipment on a doll or a teddy bear so they can become familiar with things like a blood pressure cuff or intravenous (IV) medicine. Young patients can practice giving shots using a syringe without a needle. For teens, it might mean discussing the latest pop culture trends or watching a movie together in the Guerin Children’s screening room.

Sometimes, “play is just play,” said Certified Child Life Specialist Brittany Arias, “but while you are playing, and the child is relaxed, it’s often a time when conversations happen and kids share their fears and stresses.”  

Certified Child Life Specialist Joanne Ordono focuses on hematology/oncology patients. Because her patients are often hospitalized for lengthy periods of time, she helps children and parents with everything from worries about friendships to understanding a child's new normal of living with cancer.

“Sometimes, we have to have tough conversations,” Ordono said. “We work hand in hand with the physicians and nurses. They explain a procedure to me and then it’s my job to turn the medical jargon into language children understand.”

The specialists try to celebrate with their patients whenever they can, whether it’s creating a special birthday party, making up for a missed graduation or arranging a special visit with Spider-Man or a sports star. Every Halloween, the specialists dress in costume and go room to room to bring special treats to patients. In December, there are decorations for every holiday. 

“We know it’s hard for our patients and our families to be in the hospital,” Sternberg said. “We improve the patient and family experience and try to make a hospital stay as positive as can be.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Making Strides in Treating the Smallest Heart Patients