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Turning Being FTK Into a Career

Coming into SDSU, I always knew I wanted to work with children. However, the career path that I have chosen to pursue has changed over the years. My sophomore year, I added a minor in Child and Family Development (CFD) and, as I spent time studying this field and taking courses within it, I realized I no longer wished to pursue being a clinical pediatric registered dietitian - I wanted more! I wanted interaction with children and their families and to be able to engage with them and be an advocate for their overall experience in a hospital. It was through CFD 390, The Hospitalized Child, that I found what I had been longing for: patient interaction and impact. It was in this class I learned about a health profession I never even knew existed, child life specialty. I knew right away this was the path I wanted to follow. 

As one can imagine, there is a lot of anxiety, fear and concern when in a hospital - these feelings are often amplified for a child who does not know or understand what is happening to them, or they can become daunting for a sibling or family member. Because chronic or critical illness or injury does not just affect the patient, but the family as a whole, child life specialists focus on providing family-centered care. They are able to help calm these fears, anxieties and concerns, or even provide basic needs through a number of means. However, when I become a child life specialist I want to be able to do it as an educator, an advocate, a safe person and a resource with empathy for the patients and families I work with. 


As a child life specialist, you help the patient and their family navigate the process of illness, injury, disability, trauma or hospitalization. This can be done through explaining a child's diagnosis in a way that's appropriate for the child's age and level of understanding. For example, explaining procedures, medical terminology, and/or jargon in developmentally appropriate terms by utilizing some sort of teaching doll or utilizing real or pretend medical equipment. This can be done for the patient, their siblings and/or their guardians to help them understand exactly what is happening step by step in a procedure, surgery, etc.  This way you continue to focus on family-centered care by meeting the needs of all involved. 


Hospitals are known to have a negative connotation and the idea of staying in one for months at a time can be stressful as children are constantly developing. However, child life specialists also ensure children are on track developmentally during their stay in the hospital through socialization events, activities in a playroom or designated teen room, and creating healthy interactions and friendly environments. Child life specialists are able to provide emotional support and help patients and families develop coping strategies for the experiences they encounter within the hospital. The passion I have to become a child life specialist is because I want to help patients and families live longer, happier and healthier lives together - this passion has only grown because of Dance Marathon at SDSU!


Throughout my time as a part of Dance Marathon I have learned that we as participants in this movement have become an outlet and “safe place” for our families, much like child life specialists can be for those they work with. We are their advocates by spreading awareness of what their child has experienced, and giving hope that we as college students can be alongside them through their fight and continue to want to make a change in their lives. Dance Marathon at SDSU has allowed me to work very closely with the families Rady Children’s Hospital has served and treated. In October 2019, right around Halloween, our Leadership Team had the opportunity to host a craft/play event at Rady Children’s.


We had multiple patients and their families come; however, I remember one patient and her mother very specifically. The patient looked about 13, had a back brace that supported her entire spine and was in a wheelchair. She loved painting and talking to all of the Leadership Team members. She brought a large, rainbow stuffed dog toy and she really wanted to paint it. As many of us played and chatted with her throughout the activity, we noticed that her mom had sat off to the side on a bench. Minutes later, another Leadership Team member and I noticed that she was taking a nap. We then both thought “when was the last time this mother was able to take a nap or even get adequate rest knowing that her daughter was having fun?” 


A simple event or act sometimes goes such a long way for the patients and families that we serve. This is why we do what we do. Whether it’s through an in-person event, a card with encouraging words, fundraising, or meeting some basic needs, Dance Marathon at SDSU is here to support Rady Children’s Hospital and all of the patients and families it serves. Especially because Rady Children’s goes above and beyond for their patients and families, and we all are so proud and honored to be supporting such an amazing hospital!


To me, being For The Kids (FTK) goes far beyond a main event in February and fundraising. It is about fighting for, supporting and advocating for the children, their families and Rady Children’s Hospital three hundred and sixty-five days a year! I am continuously in awe of the bravery and resilience of these children and families who have to fight their battles within the hospital, but also their willingness to share their stories with our SDSU community. Being able to be at Dance Marathon and hear the stories from these patients and families who have resilient spirits, contagious smiles, and courageous and radiant souls is why I have been a part of this movement for the past 4 years and why I will forever be FTK. 


Being a part of Dance Marathon and being FTK is realizing that you are a part of something so much larger than you. When you choose to be FTK you are a part of a much larger network that spreads around the entire U.S. and creates a lasting impact on Rady Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network and everyone they serve. Although you may never meet the patients and families your efforts directly impact, it is knowing that you have potentially made their pain go from a “ten” to a “one” because the families know they have a community surrounding them in their fight. 


Be a light in our movement and commit to joining our fight!


- Kenya Flores, Dance Marathon at SDSU VP Internal Affairs 2020-2021

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