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Spotlight on Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Child Life at CHOP


Spotlight on Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Child Life at CHOP

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Inspirer will be sharing a few articles throughout September highlighting individuals making a difference in the world of pediatric cancer awareness.

Doctors, researchers, and charity organizations all provide crucial assistance to children fighting cancer. The Child Life Department at each hospital is another group that is invaluable. Teachers, child life specialists, and therapists can all be found in the Child Life Department and offer immeasurable support to children and their families. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was gracious enough to connect us with a few of their Child Life Department team members.  We had the honor of talking to these inspiring women about their jobs, what inspires them, and how they unwind. Be sure to learn how you can help this extraordinary team at the end of the article.

Ryan Lovett, M. ED
Teacher – Hospital School Program

Why did you decide to go into education?
I realized I would like to become a teacher in the 7th grade when I began volunteering at my old elementary school. I continued volunteering with a former teacher throughout high school—I learned so much about teaching and discovered I really enjoyed it. I feel lucky to have discovered a career I love at such a young age!

Why did you decide to be an educator in the hospital setting?
A teacher friend of mine recommended Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Until she mentioned it, I didn’t even realize teaching in a hospital setting was an option!

How does being an educator in the hospital differ from being an educator in a school?
There are quite a few differences, but I’ll just name a few! To start, I teach all grade and age levels at CHOP, whereas I generally stayed within a 7th -11th-grade band at my previous school. I need a lot more content knowledge than when I taught specific subjects or grades. I also tend to teach 1:1 or in very small groups at CHOP, which is significantly different from my experience in public schools.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out as an educator in the hospital setting?
There is much more autonomy in this environment than in a typical school, so it is important hospital teachers are highly organized and self-motivated. You need to be able to set your own schedule, coordinate with schools, coordinate with medical staff, prep your lessons, and document. The most important thing, however, is to treat the kids like they’re students, not patients. There will, of course, need to be accommodations and modifications, but in my experience, our students do best when held to the expectations of their non-hospitalized peers.

Who is your inspiration?
I’m inspired by all sorts of people! Generally, I find people who do the right thing, even when it is hard or scary, to be inspiring.

What do you do to unwind outside of the job?
I hang out with my wife, dog, and friends. I read a lot.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love helping to make the hospital stay a little more normal for patients. On the professional benefits side, I am consistently impressed by how supportive of an environment Children’s Hospital is and I love how much I’ve learned while working here.


Elise Keels CCLS, CTRS
Certified Child Life Specialist III
Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

What is your definition of a child life specialist?
A Child Life Specialist is a teacher who will help make the hospital less scary through play and developmentally appropriate preparation and coping support.

What does your job entail?
No day is the same for a Child Life Specialists. As a CCLS (Certified Child Life Specialist) I am partnering with patients and families to assess how a child will cope with an upcoming procedure or hospitalization. We provide developmentally appropriate preparation, with real medical equipment or pictures, to familiarize a patient with the hospital setting and enhance their coping. A child life specialist can provide opportunities for emotional expression and exploration through medical play, where the child can be the “doctor” and explore medical materials in a free play setting. Child Life Specialists facilitate group play opportunities in playrooms along with individual therapeutic sessions at a patient’s bedside.

Why did you decide to go into this field?
I always knew I wanted to work with children in a setting where play and recreation can be utilized in a therapeutic manner. As a Certified Child Life Specialist and Recreation Therapist, I found working in a pediatric hospital allowed me to empower kids to be kids through play opportunities and therapeutic support, while the patient and family are navigating a potentially challenging healthcare experience.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out in the child life profession?
Jump into as many patient care experiences as you can in every area of the hospital. Child Life services can vary greatly across hospitals, inpatient vs. outpatient, acute care vs. chronic care. Build your own scope of practice and approach. And enjoy what these brave little friends bring to your life every day!

Who is your inspiration?
I keep walking through these doors every day because of the patients and families I have the honor of working with. They help me learn and grow just as much as I help them in their hospital experience.

What do you do to unwind outside of the job?
I like to run, hike, go to a spin class, or practice yoga. Just being outside in the fresh air with my family is the ticket to relaxation for me!

What do you enjoy most about your job?
When a child’s clinic appointment is wrapping up and a parent says, “It’s time to go home” and a child says that they don’t want to go because they are having so much fun or “can I just finish my project”, those are the moments I know I’m doing my job well. As a Child Life Specialist, I always strive to promote mastery in a child’s coping so that they feel like they have control in a potentially painful or invasive medical intervention. When a child says, “I can’t do it, I’m too scared” and we are able to come to the other side of that in establishing a coping plan and empowering the child to take part in the procedure where they can make appropriate choices is always my favorite part of my job.

August 9, 2017 © Holly E Clark, All Rights Reserved www.hollyclarkphotography.com

Abbien Crowley, MA ATR-BC ATCS LPC

Registered Board Certified Art Therapist
Art Therapy Certified Supervisor
Licensed Professional Counselor

Why did you decide to become a Creative Arts Therapist (CAT)?
I truly believe that art has the unique ability to connect people, encourage reflection, and foster communication.  Becoming a creative arts therapist meant that I would be given the opportunity to support others in using art to find creative ways to express themselves.

What does your job entail?
I offer individual and group art therapy services to patients and family members during hospitalizations.  As an art therapist, I design and introduce art therapy tasks that support patients in a variety of ways.  Art can be used to explore thoughts and feelings, encourage creative development, and provide opportunities for meaning-making through painting, drawing, or sculpting.  Additionally, I work as a member of the psychosocial team, contributing to the health and wellness of patients through collaborations with other disciplines.

Why did you decide to go into this field?
Art has always been a part of my life.  When I was exploring ways to pursue art in a professional capacity, I discovered art therapy.  I had used my own personal art making to express thoughts and feelings as a teenager but was only introduced to the idea of art therapy in college.   It was exciting to discover that art therapy combined several of my interests including psychology, art making, and the idea of helping others.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out as an art/music therapist?
The credentialing process for art therapists asks that professionals engage in clinical supervision.  I wholeheartedly endorse and encourage new art therapists to actively participate in supervision as a way to develop their identity as a therapist, process their experiences, and explore innovative approaches to their work.

Who is your inspiration?
My parents are a constant source of inspiration.  I was raised to believe in the importance of creativity, kindness, and equality.  I love my work as an art therapist for many reasons, but acknowledge that it reflects the values my parents encouraged growing up.

What do you do to unwind outside of the job?
I really appreciate the experience of being outside in nature.  It helps me to feel grounded and connected to my surroundings.  When I’m outside, I love to explore the environment in a tactile and mindful way – gardening, feeling a breeze, appreciating the sunshine.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love that every day is different.  My job allows me to be incredibly imaginative while supporting others in using their creativity to promote therapeutic experiences.  In considering my work in the hospital, I’m especially grateful and honored to work with patients and families during hospitalizations that could feel stressful.

The Child Life Department at CHOP is able to bring fun to the hospital solely based on the donations from our community. All the toys, crafts, teaching materials, and many other beautiful resources we have available to our patients and families exist because of donors. We are always so grateful for our previously treated families running donation drives or partnering with a local business that wants to provide play opportunities or items for comfort for our kids. If you are interested in supporting the Child Life team in Oncology, please go to https://give.chop.edu/page/content/give and choose “Child life Services – Oncology Fund” as your Fund Designation.



Annie is a photographer and artist currently residing outside of Philadelphia. She has a degree in media design from the MTSU School of Journalism and got her start doing graphic and merchandise design for the NYC theatre community. She spends most of her free time traveling to theatre, concerts, or creating art. She has an unquenchable thirst to explore all things abandoned and old. Annie also answers to the name of Yoda (a favorite nickname amongst family and friends)

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