By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Smith was working at a hospital in Texas last year when she heard about an opening for a child life specialist at Riley at IU Health North Hospital in Carmel.
It was 2020, several months into the pandemic, and she liked the idea of being closer to her family in Michigan. So she went for it. She got the job and started in her role working with pediatric oncology patients last December.
“It’s what I love to do, and this is an opportunity to do that and even more,” she said. “I was excited to jump on this team and get to learn here and help develop the program.”
What she didn’t expect was to earn a meaningful award just months into her new job.
Smith received the Lasting Impression Award last week for the impact she had on a teenage patient who came through the emergency department last spring.
For Smith, who was rotating through the ED that weekend, it was all in a day’s work. As a child life specialist, it is always her goal to put patients and families at ease during a stressful time. But for the teen’s parent, it meant more than she could know.
“Catherine, the child life specialist, has a true calling, and it is so evident in how she interacts with her patient,” the parent wrote in a nomination letter for the award, which is presented in Indy Suburban Region hospitals within IU Health. “She was amazing and funny and really helped make the actual moments (of) being stitched up so easy.”
In fact, the entire team at Riley at IU North went above and beyond to support not just their child but every patient and family in the ED that night, the parent said.
Dr. Rocky Singh, vice president and chief medical officer of the Indy Suburban Region Hospitals, was on hand last week, along with other members of the Lasting Impression committee, to present the award to Smith.
Sara Barnett, manager for volunteer resources and child life at IU North, describes Smith as “amazing and incredible” in her CLS role. “We are truly blessed to have her here. She really connects with her patients and families.”
In this case, Smith connected with her patient through music and jokes. As she recalls, the teen came into the ED after suffering an injury during a baseball game. Connecting with a teenager is a lot different than connecting with a young child, but her training prepares her for most any scenario.
“I chatted with him throughout the night and built a rapport,” she said. “It’s chaotic in the ED, especially when you’re sitting in the hallway, but when it was time for stitches we brought him into a room. One of the things that’s really important to us as child life specialists is giving patients the opportunity to have some control over the situation and to have choices whenever possible.”
She remembers that her patient seemed calm, but nervous at the same time. She suggested putting on some music or a movie to distract him while he was getting his stitches. He picked the music, and they told jokes until the procedure was finished.
“It was a memorable experience for me because sometimes as a child life specialist our interventions work and sometimes they don’t,” she said.
This time, her approach worked. But she has to be prepared to support children of all ages.
“When I walk into a room with a patient, I’m constantly reading what are the emotions in the room, what are the stressors, who is this patient and family and what am I working with,” she said. “You can usually tell whether they trust you or whether they’re nervous and I just build my interventions based on that.”
Still, the approach is the same – it’s always patient-centered and family-centered, she said.
“We try to be on their level, whether that’s talking about CoComelon with a 3-year-old or talking about baseball with a teenager.”
Smith said she shares the award with everyone on her team.
“I love hearing feedback from patients and families that the work we do has an impact. It’s an awesome opportunity to boost the visibility of our team and show how we support patients and families throughout the hospital.”
Outside of work, Smith said you can usually find her playing music, traveling and adventuring, drinking coffee, or spending time with her family, which includes six siblings.
The Lasting Impression Award is presented to team members who go above and beyond their job description, demonstrating their dedication to IU Health’s mission and to providing an exceptional experience for patients, guests and team members. Anyone can submit a nomination for a team member to receive a Lasting Impression Award. Forms are available on all units in the suburban hospitals.
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com