The role of child life in pediatric healthcare

A Holistic View of Health

As the field of medicine has continued to evolve with expanding research and technology, healthcare professionals have begun to view health differently. Until recently, health was conceptualized as solely physical, with physicians relying on the biomedical model of healthcare. However, modern medicine commonly centers around a biopsychosocial approach. In other words, physicians today continue to emphasize the importance of understanding psychological, social, and emotional factors of an individual’s health in order to provide more personalized (and thus, more effective) care for each patient. Further, it is essential to view mental health (not just physical health) as an equal component of overall well-being. While societal stigma has often posed a barrier to prioritizing mental healthcare, untreated psychological issues can often exacerbate other health problems. On the other hand, salient social factors, such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status, can greatly impact an individual’s health and resources/access to care.

Integrated Healthcare

When providers view health as a combined result of biological, psychological, and social factors, they are better able to see the patient’s “big picture” and how certain influences can interact to create unique problems. Thus, healthcare institutions today manage patients’ psychological and social factors which impact patients’ health with various departments and staff from interdisciplinary fields other than medicine (i.e., psychology, social work). These additional providers play a key role in patient care, as they not only help physicians understand the specific nuances of each patient’s well-being, but also support patients and families through the extraneous difficulties that often come along with health issues and hospital stays. When patients have access to an integrated care team, experts from a variety of relevant fields are able to collaborate in order to gain a holistic view of an individual’s health. As a result, providers are better able to identify patients’ individual needs, thus making their care more comfortable and more effective overall.

What is Child Life?

Child Life Specialists with a pediatric patient

In pediatric healthcare settings, a new integrative health field for tending to patients’ and families’ psychosocial needs has been introduced. In addition to psychologists and social workers, many children’s hospitals have a department dedicated to Child Life, staffed with Certified Child Life Specialists. Generally, Child Life involves creating a safe and fun environment for patients (as well as their parents and siblings) in order to enhance their hospital experience and overall well-being during their treatment. This may include arts and crafts, toys and games, and other special programming to provide hospitalized children with various creative outlets. Specifically, many pediatric hospitals also have certified art therapists and music therapists on staff, as such methods have proven to be highly effective in mitigating pain and stress of hospitalized children. Additionally, Child Life Specialists often work directly with patients in order to cope with stressful procedures or to manage pain and symptoms. This may include demonstrating what will happen during a patient’s surgery on a doll or stuffed animal in order to reduce anxiety beforehand.

Child Life at Children’s Hospital New Orleans

Located in Uptown New Orleans, Children’s Hospital New Orleans is the leading pediatric healthcare facility in Louisiana, providing quality care to children and families throughout the Southeast region of the United States. Like many children’s hospitals around the country, CH NOLA has a thriving Child Life Department, with various Child Life Specialists and Recreation Therapists on staff, in addition to a beautiful hospital playroom and teen lounge for patients to engage in various activities. Patients can practice various musical skills with trained Music Therapists and engage their creative side with Amy’s Art Cart. Both the playroom and teen lounge have a plethora of games and activities for patients and their families, including a play supermarket, doctor’s office, a large selection of board games, a Nintendo Switch and PlayStation, and just about any toy a child can dream of.

To learn more about Child Life & Creative Therapies at CH NOLA, visit

Child Life Specialists with pediatric patients


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