Child Life Specialists often un-sung heroes at St. Jude

By Ursula Madden - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has long been recognized for its groundbreaking discoveries in pediatric cancer research, and the people who work there are often un-sung heroes.

Jennifer Smith is one of 14 Child Life Specialists at the hospital. She and her colleagues help young patients and their families cope with cancer and other pediatric diseases in a kid-friendly environment.  

"I work with children and families to help them be more prepared for what's going to happen here," Smith said. "And I teach them about their diagnosis and I teach them about the procedures they are going to have here."

Smith's complex job includes explaining treatments, medications, and their side effects in a simplistic manner the children can understand. She often incorporates props, which allow the children to interact while they learn.  On average, each St. Jude patient sees six Child Life Specialists during their stay at the hospital.

"A lot of times we use dolls," Smith said.

The teaching dolls help recreate the patients' treatments so they can know what to expect.  Smith described one doll that has a trach and a tube in its throat.  

"We use this to show as realistically as possible what something is going to look like," Smith said.  "So if a child needs to have a trach placed, I can show them what it's going to look like, what it's going to feel like."

Smith said this would not be possible without the support of generous donors.

"This all wouldn't happen if we didn't have the facilities and the ability to do these things" she said.  "If we don't have people helping us and giving us money and donations and funds then we can't do our job."

Patients at St. Jude see and average of six child life specialists during their time at the hospital.  Smith, who works in the ICS, says some children are there for as little as 24 hours, while others are there for as long as six weeks.

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