“Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
Those words – written by Maya Angelou – have special significance for Lydia Geathers St. John BA ’15, MS ‘17. For her, that’s what it means to be a child life specialist.
Geathers St. John came to the College from Ridgeway, South Carolina, and completed her undergraduate degree in early childhood education in 2015. Two years later, she walked across the Cistern stage and proudly received her Master of Science in Child Life from the College of Charleston.
Child life specialists serve a unique role. They provide vital psychosocial care and support for children and families who are dealing with illness, injury, disability and hospitalization. Through the College’s child life program, Geathers St. John developed the expertise and garnered the experience necessary to thrive in this field.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Geathers St. John excelled in this work. Her passion for this field prompted her to complete advanced graduate coursework in infant, child and adolescent development as well as therapeutic play, pediatric illness, family systems, death, dying and loss; health communication; and other foundational coursework in child life and research methods.
“Lydia epitomizes all the qualities of a child life specialist – leadership, flexibility, excellent communication and organizational skills, along with playfulness, sensitivity, self-awareness and a respect for diversity,” says program director Susan Simonian.
In addition to her coursework, Geathers St. John completed significant hands-on training in child life though the program’s integrated practicum at the Medical University of South Carolina. There, she worked under the mentorship of the 11 certified child life specialists.
Geathers St. John also augmented her experience through a network of nonprofit organizations that partner with the child life program. She led bereavement groups in a local school and Shannon’s Hope Camp, and organized play days for hospitalized children and their siblings at MUSC, Palmetto and Greenville Health System Children’s Hospitals.
After receiving several offers for internship placement, she chose to complete her child life internship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she excelled in every aspect of child life intervention, including non-directive, medical, and therapeutic play; procedural preparation; and family-centered care.
This summer, Geathers St. John will begin her professional career as a Child Life Specialist at Palmetto Children’s Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Recognizing that hospitalization of a child not only impacts that child but also the child’s siblings, Geathers St. John plans to implement weekly sibling programming in her new role.
“There really is a need for an outlet within the hospital where the siblings of chronic patients can play, express themselves and ask any questions regarding the hospitalization or treatment of their brother or sister,” she says. “During my internship, I found that I was having powerful interactions with the patients’ siblings, and discovered that there are many misconceptions they have regarding the treatment of their brother or sister that they are afraid to ask about for fear of upsetting parents or family members.”
Geathers St. John also hopes to further the development of evidence-based interventions within child life practice. Specifically, she would like to research the medical and psychosocial benefits of J-Tip usage during IV placement. She believes that this additional step can make a significant difference for nurses when placing an IV on an anxious child.
She also plans to research the use of Lidocaine Epinephrine and Tetracaine (LET) ointment as an alternative to numbing injections for children who are having lacerations repaired with sutures.
“There are still some misconceptions among medical staff regarding when and where LET can be used, and I think continued research could help me better advocate for the use of LET instead of injections,” she says.
It’s clear that Geathers St. John will be a strong advocate for children and families as she works with an interdisciplinary health care team. The child life services she provides will help countless children and families in South Carolina during a very difficult time. For her, it’s all about seeking that silver lining.
Featured photo by Reese Moore.