There is power in deep breathing. It’s a coping mechanism Missouri State graduate student Grace Pipkins keeps in the toolbox of her mind.
It led to one of her favorite moments during her training to become a child life specialist.
She was working with a patient, completing a practicum in Cape Town, South Africa, when it happened.
“While working with this boy, I could tell he was in a lot of pain,” Pipkins said. “Through the play activity we were doing, something didn’t seem right.”
The boy’s face read that he was uncomfortable — that he was unable to concentrate.
So, Pipkins took his hand and started breathing deeply. Soon, he began to do the same.
Later that week, Pipkins was asked to work with the same patient. As soon as they sat down, he showed her just how much she had helped.
“He grabbed my hand and started taking deep breaths,” Pipkins said. “It was the moment I saw all my training come into place.”
Some methods may be simple, but the responsibilities of a child life specialist are vast.
According to the website for the Association of Child Life Professionals, “In both healthcare and community settings, Certified Child Life Specialists (CLS) help infants, children, youth and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement.”
Pipkins is not yet certified, but her training in Africa, as well as in Springfield, put her on the right path. Her time as an intern at Mercy Kids Children’s Hospital August-December 2019 was especially rewarding, she said.
“My experiences as an intern have shaped me into the professional I am now,” Pipkins says.
A few of Pipkins’ duties during her internship included:
- Providing education, preparation and distraction for patients undergoing procedure.
- Providing play opportunities to patients to normalize hospital settings.
- Extending support to families by listening.
It’s a job she took very seriously, Pipkins added. She liked how she could be her most authentic self at work, as well.
“Every patient, every experience, every game of UNO and every laugh made my time at Mercy exactly what it needed to be,” she said.
Additionally, since Mercy Kids Children’s Hospital is attached to Mercy Hospital Springfield, for adults, Pipkins’ internship experience was unusual. She not only worked with children dealing with ailments — she helped children watch older loved ones combat illness and injury, too.
“That is not something students like me are exposed to often in a children-only hospital,” she says.
As experienced as Pipkins is, graduation is still ahead of her. Today, Pipkins is living in St. Louis, taking a single online class as she concentrates on studying for her certification exam.
“I’m just taking it slow and steady while I search for jobs,” Pipkins says.
In the meantime, she’s reflective of the tasks she’s already accomplished — and the patients she’s already served.
“Of course, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that get done when child life specialists aren’t working with patients, but I’ve learned they are always our top priority,” Pipkins says. “Patients in need always come first.”