Child Life Specialist Makes Hospital Visits Easier for Children and their Families

Hospitalization and medical procedures can be very anxiety provoking for children and may lead to feelings of confusion, fear, and loss of control. Knowing that a positive attitude, awareness level, and comfortable environment can promote positive outcomes, Southeast Georgia Health System now has a child life specialist on staff to ease children’s fears and clear up misconceptions related to healthcare. 
Earlene Dickson, B.S., CCLS, certified child life specialist, joined the Health System’s Child Life Program in October. She explains, “My main purpose is to ease the anxiety and fear of the hospital and healthcare procedures for children by normalizing the environment, providing developmentally appropriate education and preparation before procedures, and distraction during procedures.”
A St. Simons Island resident, Dickson previously worked as a child life specialist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Child and Family Development from Georgia Southern University and completed a child life internship at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa.
Interventions that a child life specialist provides can increase cooperation and reduce anxiety and pain both during and after procedures, Dickson explained. “Research shows that children who receive developmentally appropriate preparation and explanations have better outcomes to their procedures and better long-term adjustments to any medical challenges they may face.” 
Kimberly Yarbrough of Brunswick explained how Earlene was a huge help to her 5-year-old son Brian in November when he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. “When we came to the Emergency Care Center the night before, Brian was very anxious and had a very hard time letting them draw blood,” she said. The next day, after Brian was admitted to the hospital, Earlene arrived to assist by providing distraction while his IV was administered. She shared with him a sound book from the Disney movie, “Cars”, and the procedure went smoothly. “He let them hook up the IV without any problems at all,” Yarbrough said. 
Dickson also checked back in with Brian and his family, bringing crayons, pencils, and coloring pages to keep him occupied during the rest of his stay. “She was just wonderful. She was so easygoing and gentle. It made things much easier for him and for us,” Yarbrough said.  
In addition to preparing children for hospitalization, tests, and procedures, Dickson’s responsibilities include promoting healthy lifestyles and injury prevention through community outreach activities. Other services provided through the Child Life Program include pre-operative tours for pediatric patients and their families who are scheduled for surgery, and supporting children who have adult family members that are experiencing a critical illness or injury.
“This is part of our commitment to family-focused care at Southeast Georgia Health System,” says Shannon Wainright, director, Patient Care Services. “In the hospital, Earlene helps prepare children for procedures in a way they can understand, as well as support children who have family members who are ill or injured. In the community, she educates people about children’s health and safety issues.”
The child life specialist is on the Brunswick campus and provides services in the Pediatric Unit, Emergency Care Center, Radiology and Lab. She also provides staff education and pre-operative tours on the Camden Campus and is available for community presentations in both Glynn and Camden counties. For more information on the Child Life Program at Southeast Georgia Health System, contact Earlene Dickson at 912-466-2434. For information on community presentations, please contact the marketing department at 912-466-2140.