It can be scary for any kid to visit the doctor, especially if you have to make several trips and have special surgeries and procedures. March is Child Life Month, which is a time dedicated to celebrating the specialists making it easier for kids to go through stressful situations.
Amelya Daily, 5, is no stranger to the waiting room. Mom Shawn Dolan-Daily said, “Amelya was born with microtia, which is a deformity of the ear.”
She’s visited Pediatric Ear Nose and Throat Doctor Eytan Young since she was born and recently had surgery to improve her hearing. Amelya said, “I had stitches in my head. I didn’t feel it because I was asleep.”
While her parents were worried, Amelya was relaxed because of a familiar face. Child Life Specialist Courtney Mergen joined the team at the Iowa ENT Center six months ago. She said, “Child Life Specialists are experts in child development and they’re trained to assist children and families who are undergoing stressful situations.”
With her backpack full of toys, Mergen plays with young patients during exams and helps them prepare for surgeries by putting them in control. She said, “That is something I try to bring to them, offer them choices and help them understand what is expected of them and sometimes we practice that. We do some role playing and medical play.”
Child Life specialists are commonly seen in hospitals, but not doctor clinics. Dr. Young said much is asked of his staff, children and families during appointments, and having Mergen streamlines the care. He said, “Sometimes it helps to have someone else who is a professional and who can do that professionally and beyond the means I can offer or any other clinician can offer, and that’s when child life specialty comes on board.”
Dr. Young had to get his partners on board before hiring a full-time specialist. Child life specialists are not covered by insurance, and the clinic does not add it to a patient’s bill. Dr. Young said, “It’s on us to provide the service because we know it improves the experience of that child.”
Dolan-Daily said the service has improved Amelya’s care. She said, “Helped Amelya relax, kind of take the edge off a little bit. It wasn’t as hard of a transition for her to just walk away from my husband and I to just go into the surgery itself.”
Mergen and Dr. Young will talk to parents about making a trip to the doctor easier for kids. The free presentation is Thursday, March 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the Iowa ENT Center. It’s located at 105 Valley West Drive in West Des Moines.
Mergen said parents can help by talking to their child about the visit beforehand and asking them about their concerns. She said a young patient’s biggest fear is usually the unknown.