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An alumna fulfilling her dream working in Child Life at SickKids
If you think of a family going through cancer or dialysis – they’ve already got so much stress. My job is to alleviate some of that stress in a therapeutic way.”
Faiza Ali always knew she someday wanted to work with children, but it wasn’t until her first visit to the University of Guelph-Humber as a high-schooler weighing her post-secondary educational options that she started to figure out what her career might look like.
She remembers that Fall Information Day vividly. As she chatted with students and alumni about the Early Childhood Studies program, someone mentioned the work of Child Life Specialists, experts who provide support and assistance to children and families struggling with serious medical issues.
She went home to her family that night certain she had found her calling, but she decided she would start volunteering, just to make sure it really was a good fit. For the full four years she studied at the University of Guelph-Humber, she also volunteered at the Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as SickKids), even as she completed long placement hours in every semester of study.
Now, two years after graduating from UofGH and after attaining a Master’s degree in Child Life & Pediatric Psychosocial Care from McMaster University, Ali is a Certified Child Life Specialist at SickKids – her dream job at her dream employer. She can hardly believe that it’s true.
“It’s amazing,” Ali said. “It kind of feels surreal now because now some of the people who were my volunteer preceptors are my colleagues. I started this journey as a volunteer at SickKids thinking, ‘What’s the most that can happen? Let’s try this and see if it can work out.’
“To actually be working here? It’s definitely surreal.”
A different challenge every day
As a Certified Child Life Specialist, Ali has a diverse array of duties and no two days look quite alike.
If she’s working in a clinical capacity, she might spend her time guiding a sick child through some therapeutic play, she might help a child who is refusing to eat develop a feeding chart, or she might be tasked with helping children through unpleasant procedures, blood work or pill-swallowing.
On a different day, she might spend her time managing the hospital’s family spaces – designated areas for families who are struggling to rest, relax and play, away from the hospital’s more clinical areas – or running production on the three live broadcasts played throughout the hospital every day to entertain the patients and their families with stories and games.
All of this is complicated by COVID-19, but Ali has found ways to do her job as effectively as before – as one example, since it’s harder to forge a connection with kids when you’re wearing a mask, she is sure to show patients a picture of her face when introducing herself.
No matter what specific task Ali is carrying out on a given day, her daily duties are consistent in one way: everything she does is meant to make life easier and happier for families who are dealing with situations that no one would want to endure.
“There’s a lot I love about my job. One of the main things I thoroughly enjoy is being able to support families in a therapeutic, non-medical manner,” Ali said. “If you think of a family going through cancer or dialysis – they’ve already got so much stress. My job is to alleviate some of that stress in a therapeutic way.”
Of course, that means Ali has had to become immersed in some truly heartbreaking situations. Being around people suffering unimaginable pain can’t be easy for Ali. When asked how she copes, she thinks back to her very first year at the University of Guelph-Humber.
“Even in my undergrad, the leaders in our program were always talking about mindfulness and self-care. In first year, we talked about educator or caregiver burnout and why it’s important to take care of yourself.”
Internships were another part of Ali’s education that proved invaluable.
In her first year, she completed a placement at a daycare. She realized that wasn’t for her, so she worked with her field placement coordinator, Early Childhood Studies Program Head Dr. Nikki Martyn and Assistant Program Head Dr. Elena Merenda to find placements that were more closely aligned with her career goals.
“Every single one of my placements after first year was completely geared toward Child Life or helping vulnerable populations,” Ali said.
During her time at UofGH, she completed placements at the Nanny Angel Network – which provides support for mothers with cancer – and at Heart House Hospice providing grief and bereavement support. In her final year, she completed placements at a hospital, and another working in grief and loss.
“Then when I started my Master’s, I said: ‘OK, I’ve done something like this. It wasn’t exactly Child Life, but I’ve been exposed to this population.’ Now that I’m certified, I know exactly what to do. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without the University of Guelph-Humber.”
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