Child Life Alumni Spotlight: Lauren

Name: Lauren Berger

Degree: BS Child Life. Lauren has received her Certified Child Life Specialist credential upon graduating and is finishing her Child Life internship.

Tell us a little about your experience at ECU and in the Child Life program:
If it wasn’t for the Child Life program at ECU, I am not sure I would be in the position I’m in today. ECU has allowed me to grow and flourish, as well as challenge myself personally and professionally. Throughout my time at ECU, I was able to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to push myself out of my comfort zone and set myself apart when it comes to the field of child life. Looking back on my child life journey, I wouldn’t trade my academic, practicum or internship experience for anything! 

How did you become interested in the child life field? 
Growing up, my mom frequently took my sister and I to the hospital cafeteria she worked at, which was always seen as a treat. We participated in hospital events and even got to meet a lot of her coworkers. Eventually, we went to this hospital for another reason – as a childhood friend soon became hospitalized with a brain injury. When visiting this friend, we entered a bright and colorful room. We took a picture with him in that room, and that picture acted as a catalyst for me discovering the field of child life. As it was time to apply for colleges, I told my mom that I wanted to work in the medical field with children, but I wanted it to be fun! As she described the child life specialists she used to work with, I knew I was hooked. From there, I applied to ECU with the hopes of entering the Child Life program. This hospital that we always went to and visited my friend at is the hospital I was able to complete my child life internship at – Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC!

Favorite child life courses at ECU?
Intro to Child Life: This is the first class one takes where they are really able to understand the foundations of being a child life specialist, as well as the determination it takes to become one!

Play in the life of Children: This was such an eye-opening course into how the dynamics and principles of play provide such a rich learning experience for young children, as well as how the act of play affects our overall social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development over time.  

Child Development 1&2: I loved learning about the various theories of child development and how so many experiences can lead to a same or different outcome! 

Can you tell us about your current job/role/employer? 
Recently, I accepted a fellowship position at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. After completing my internship during the summer of 2022, I realized that most of my child life experience had been in critical care (HemOnc, PICU, Cardiac ICU, and Progressive ICU). When looking for my first job post-internship, I questioned my ability to “jump right in” to an area that was not considered critical care. 

This fellowship position is a year long requirement in which I am hired onto the team as a child life specialist, however, I receive unique learning experiences, resources, and support that are not typical of your first job. For the first couple of months, I am floating around all acute care populations (Neuro, General PEDS, GI, Acute Surgery, Rehab, etc.) For the ‘middle section’ of the year, I will be with Cincinnati’s Adaptive Care Team (ACT), which focuses on creating a safe and positive coping environment for patients with developmental delays and behavioral concerns as they come in for outpatient procedures, by calling the patient and family prior to assess which approach will work best for them, and share this plan with the medical team. The last ‘chunk’ of my year will be on College Hill with the psychiatric patients who do not have any medical needs but require an inpatient environment. Here I can focus on the therapeutic aspect of the child life profession. For the last month of my fellowship, I will be able to run whichever area/unit independently as if I was the CCLS that ran the unit. Overall, this opportunity offers a bridge between internship and your first job where you are given more independence as well as opportunities to shadow, try it on your own, and gain experience from a variety of environments!

What does a typical day look like for you? 
Typically, I get to work at 11am and look over emails, child life consults, coverage needs amongst my team (in case I need to cover a unit) and let my team know I am in for the day. I print my census and prioritize my patients based on the unit they are on – such as medical needs, length of stay, parental presence, age, etc. I typically check in with the charge nurse for the unit to see if any procedures are scheduled for the day, as that is my main priority. As a fellow, I have more time in my day that allows me to provide more in depth therapeutic interventions. Therefore, I may spend most of my day seeing 5 patients who all benefited from an intervention, or 20 patients who all just needed an introduction of services. Around 7pm I head up to the Sleep Study unit to provide support to patients with developmental, behavioral, and/or sensory needs that may cope negatively. I get all of my chart notes in for the day and am typically out by 9:30 pm!

Favorite experience in child life thus far? 
Honestly, I would consider my internship experience to be my absolute favorite so far. There were so many individual moments that built on top of each other to establish the confidence and skills I have now, that I could not pick just one. I remember wishing that the internship would be over so I could catch a break from the work and stress it took out of me. With that being said, I would do anything to go back to my internship and relive the same experiences. The amount of confidence, growth, and reflection that I did during this time was impactful, and has made me the child life specialist I am today!

Where do you see the future of Child Life heading?
I see the child life field developing into a more obtainable and sustainable position. Diversity is definitely a hot topic within the field and I would love to see more people from differing cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities take on the child life profession. Burnout is also a hot topic, so I am hoping these aspects of becoming obtainable and sustainable are cherished with increased focus on burnout rates, symptoms, and resources for burnout and compassion fatigue. Overall, I see the child life field gaining momentum and becoming an inclusive profession full of compassionate individuals! 

What is the greatest challenge child life specialists face?
I think this is a no brainer – internship! Not only is it logistically challenging to obtain an internship, but it is socially and emotionally challenging as well! There are so many factors that go into applying – not only your own application, but your friends and peers applications too. You want to ask your friends for help but if they are applying too, they are technically your competition. It can be a draining process, not only obtaining an internship, but the actual internship itself. However, if this is what you know you are meant to do, stick with it! You never know what will happen until you try! 

What advice would you give a student who wishes to enter the field?
Like I mentioned in the above question, if this is what you know you are meant to do, please stick with it! I know each step of the process can sound overwhelming and not even worth it at times. When I arrived at ECU as a freshman, the child life requirement had just changed to a Masters. Therefore, I changed my major to Family and Marriage Counseling, then Family and Community Services, then Occupational Therapy with a concentration in child development and was prepared to take the mandatory child life courses online. It wasn’t until the end of first semester sophomore year that I heard the Bachelor’s child life program was back. I dropped my chemistry class I needed for OT and began my child life journey! And let me tell you, I have never been so stressed trying to find a major that is a good enough back-up for child life! When you know it is what you want to do, nothing compares.  

P.S: VOLUNTEER! Get a jump start on volunteering with a child life program during your freshman year to avoid unwanted stress during application season! 

P.S.S: Worry about the big steps (practicum and internship) as they come. Yes it is good to be prepared, but don’t stress yourself out about the internship process during your freshman year!