COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech University’s School of Human Ecology is one of only a few to offer a child life concentration in Tennessee and is one of less than 80 licensed in the entire country. This highly specialized program draws passionate advocates for the children in the health care system.
“I decided to go to Tennessee Tech based on their child life program. I researched many different schools that had a concentration of child life but nothing compared to Tennessee Tech.” Abigail Staley, a senior at human ecology major with a concentration in child life, said.
Child life specialists are pediatric health care professionals who work with children and families in hospitals and other settings to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness and disability.
Stanley, who is from Jackson, Tennessee, also minored in early childhood education and earned a certificate in trauma-informed care. She heard about the child life program at Tech after doing personal research, and scheduled a tour with the School of Human Ecology.
“During this tour, I was able to learn more about the child life concentration and meet the staff. After experiencing the tour, I knew Tennessee Tech was the place I would spend the next four years of my life,” Staley said.
Child life is a highly competitive field, so it is crucial for students to apply to multiple internship opportunities according to Staley. She applied to over 25 different children’s hospitals across the United States. This summer, she will be participating in a child life internship for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.
Staley first became interested in child life through her own personal experience. As a child, articulating certain syllables was a struggle for her, but she remembers having a speech therapist work with her one-on-one until she learned each syllable.
“I feel as if being in a hospital setting helping children and their families overcome different challenges would be an absolute dream for me,” Staley said. “Having this struggle at such a young age sparked my interest in becoming a child life specialist. I fell in love with the goal behind child life programs and dedicated myself to pursuing this career.”
Tech’s program is also an Association of Child Life Professional’s Endorsed Academic Program, which guarantees students in our program receive all of the required and recommended course work for child life certification eligibility, according to Cara Sisk, child life assistant professor. It is the gateway to the certified child life specialist credential.
Tatera Roe, a senior human ecology major with a concentration in child life and a minor in education from Cookeville, found the child life program at Tech from a Google search.
“I was searching for careers in children’s hospitals, found child life and that brought me to finding Tech,” Roe said. “I was amazed and lucky that the school I was already at had a child life program.”
Roe is finishing up her clinical internship currently at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. She completed her practicum at Walt Disney Pavilion at Advent Health for Children in Orlando, Florida in June of 2021.
“I am hoping to find a job that utilizes my skills and experiences I have gained and developed through my time in the child life program, until I can move closer to a children’s hospital and start applying for child life positions,” Roe said. “I also plan to sit for the child life certification exam in August to become a certified child life specialist.”
Roe said the hardest part of being a child life specialist is advocating for the profession. She said child life is needed across the board with any pediatric healthcare setting not just a children’s hospital and is even growing into the school systems. In many places it has expanded already to these other areas.
“With that, advocating and spreading the word to get others to see the need, is not always easy,” Roe said. “Child life is growing and that creates optimism and excitement for new child life specialists coming into the profession wanting to be a part of that expansion.”
Students may apply for practicum and internships at any children’s hospital nationwide that has a child life program where they will be supervised by a certified child life specialist.
Tech students have received clinical experiences in Tennessee at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Tri-Star Centennial Children’s Hospital, Erlanger Children’s Hospital, LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center, and East TN Children’s Hospital. Some students have gone out of state to New York, Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois, Georgia and other states.
Any student may enroll in the child life concentration at Tech. It enables students in the concentration to meet the two-child life certification eligibility requirements, earn a bachelor’s degree and complete the required coursework.
Tech has had the child life concentration since 2011, according to Sisk. There are currently 41 students enrolled in the program and historically they have between 30-40 enrolled. Students come from across Tennessee, and there are currently several students enrolled from other states as well.