A soothing presence
The daughter of a doctor, Rachel was always interested in healthcare. After considering a number of science-related careers, she fell in love with psychology as a freshman in a course with Dr. Edman and changed her major to psychology. She discovered that a career as a child life specialist would enable her to combine her interests in healthcare and child development. After volunteering to play with kids at two Sioux Falls hospitals twice a week one summer, she knew she wanted to become a child life specialist. Rachel earned a master’s degree in that field from Loma Linda University in Southern California and started her career at the university’s children’s hospital.
What does a child life specialist do?
Child life specialists primarily work in children’s hospitals, and our main goal is to help children cope with hospitalization. Child life specialists can work with children inpatient, providing therapeutic and medical play interventions, procedural and diagnosis education, and grief support for patients and siblings. We can also work outpatient to educate and prepare patients for procedures and to help patients cope with procedures via distraction and support.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
After completing my master’s degree, I started a one-year fellowship at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. Toward the end of my fellowship, MRI staff approached the child life department to see if we could shorten the ever-growing waiting list for pediatric MRIs under general anesthesia. Most children under the age of 12 were automatically getting anesthesia because of assumed anxiety of the confined space and loud noises, as well as the need to hold perfectly still for a long time. We transformed a decommissioned MRI into a preparation space to educate children about MRIs and allowed children to practice to see if they could complete the MRI awake. In two months, we had 30 patients complete their MRI awake, avoiding the wait for anesthesia as well as the risks and costs associated for both the patients and the hospital.
How well did Northwestern prepare you for graduate school?
Studying psychology in a liberal arts setting, sprinkled with biology, prepared me very well for graduate school. I am extremely passionate about child psychology, and it truly is the backbone of child life, but because of my liberal arts education, I had an appreciation for other subjects. That was very helpful when taking non-child life graduate classes like research, marriage and family therapy courses, and counseling. It also helped that I had this unquenchable eagerness to learn, inspired by the passion of my professors at NWC.
In what ways did you grow during your time at Northwestern?
My professors cultivated an environment of learning, exploring and questioning, which is an amazing setting for growth. This was the epitome of my college experience—exploring which major/profession I wanted; exploring friendships and experiences; and most importantly, exploring my faith. It meant a lot to be able to ask questions and come to my own conclusions, all cultivated in a Christ-centered environment.
What did you most appreciate about Northwestern’s faculty?
My college experience and therefore my current knowledge would not be where it is without my professors at Northwestern. The passion each professor had for their subject instilled this love of learning inside me. I loved that my professors knew my name. Some of my most enjoyable moments were going to professors’ offices and first talking about school or projects and then just talking about life.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at NWC?
I think back so fondly on Northwestern all the time. What I miss most is the community. I loved living with friends, bundling up for soccer games, trudging through the snow to chapel, splurging on late-night ice cream at the Hub or running out for midnight donuts. I’m so thankful Northwestern gave me lifelong friends. No matter how much time we go without seeing each other, we pick up right where we left off, and the late-night laughter that was such a staple during our time at Northwestern continues.