Healthy Families

A Hospital Stay Becomes Child's Play

A Hospital Stay Becomes Child's Play

By Christopher Coyne

The prospect of a hospital stay or surgery can be fraught with anxiety, even for adults who've gone through it before. Imagine the experience for a child; especially one who is unaccustomed to the hospital environment. For a child in need of a medical procedure, the days leading up to it can be downright scary. And sometimes reassurance from parents or even their doctor is not enough.

That's why Arnot Ogden Medical Center now offers Child Life. Child Life is a unique program designed specifically to help make the hospital experience as positive as possible for both child patients and their families. Child Life Specialists work closely with the medical team to understand each child's situation and to provide the best possible care on a case-by-case basis.

Healthy Life spoke to one of Arnot Ogden's board-certified Child Life Specialists, Amy Smyk, about the Child Life program, what it means to the patient and its impact on the medical staff as well. Ms. Smyk, who is a certified medical art therapist, described how the program works and the services they offer to help children understand their hospital experience, and make it as close to normal as possible. Child Life uses therapeutic play, art and education as tools to make the child comfortable with their surroundings and help them cope with circumstances that might otherwise be overwhelming.

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Ms. Smyk told us that the program's most common clients are children who are about to have surgery of some sort and that the Child Life Program employs different methods to prepare the child prior to the procedure, and offers post-op services, as well. Child Life encourages the child to come to the hospital in advance of the surgery to talk with the doctor, meet the medical staff, and even see the equipment that will be used for their procedure.

Child Life Specialists will also talk to the child about their procedure--what will happen before, during and after-in language that they can understand. Be it just a warm, honest discussion or a coloring book that tells the story of a child's hospital experience, Child Life makes it their mission to cater to each child's psychological well-being; to alleviate anxiety and take a little mystery out of their circumstance.

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The Child Life Program's office is in the Pediatric Unit of Arnot Ogden Medical Center, and although the specialists move around the facility and to other facilities to accommodate patients, the office/playroom is home base. It's a bright, colorful place filled with games, puzzles, art supplies and all sorts of other fun things to help engage the child and perhaps provide some welcome distraction from what lies ahead. It's therapeutic play, designed to reduce anxiety.

A Child Life specialist will listen to your child's concerns, and answer questions about what's going to happen. They'll show them what a hospital gown looks like; take them to a recovery room-all with the express purpose of making the child feel at ease. The Child Life Specialists are familiar friendly faces throughout the child's hospital stay and are comforting presence the child can rely on. They'll talk to the child about any aspect of the procedure that the child wants to discuss, so they'll know what to expect every step of the way.

Introduced in the 1990s, the Child Life Program has become an invaluable resource for the Arnot Ogden Medical Center to make for a better patient and parent experience during a difficult and sometimes uncertain time. For more information on the program go online to

The Child Life Program would not be as successful as it has been, were it not for like-minded doctors and medical staff at Arnot. Healthy Life talked to surgeon, Dr. Carlos Martinez about how he deals with the prospect of performing surgery on a child. The key, says the doctor, is open and honest communication from the very beginning. A surgery for anyone is a daunting and stressful experience, but when that surgery is on a child; that stress and anxiety is felt by not just the patient, but the parents as well.

Dr. Martinez says he likes to discuss the procedure thoroughly with the child's parents first to explain the procedure. He'll tell them what the likely and intended outcome of the surgery will be, but he'll also make them aware of the risks and possibilities if the surgery doesn't produce the intended results. Surgeries are serious, and Dr. Martinez feels it's necessary to make families aware, without causing alarm or fear, of the complications that can arise. Then the doctor will speak to the child.

Dr. Martinez has been successful at being able to discuss procedures with children in calm reassuring tones, using language that they understand. The child is welcome to ask any questions, and the doctor takes them through the procedure step-by-step so they know what to expect. And when the procedure is complete, Dr. Martinez will visit the family after the surgery, explain the outcomes and help the family lay out a plain for a successful recovery.

With the combination of compassionate and conscientious medical staff and the unique Child Life Program, Arnot Ogden Medical Center is helping to make a child's hospital experience stress-free and enjoyable as possible.


Child Life Specialist
Arnot Ogden Medical Center

Carlos G. Martinez MD, FACS
Arnot Health Systems