A Look Inside the Tool Box of a Child Life Specialist

When Child Life Specialist, Rose Mills, meets a new patient, her mind immediately runs through the items in her medical tool box. In her role at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, her job is to help make the hospital experience more positive for her patients. Rose’s sole focus is caring for kids, so her medical tool box consists of kid-friendly items like dolls, teddy bears and iPads.

One of the unique aspects of her role is preparing children for surgery. Rose relies on her more than 30 years of experience in child development to choose between the tools of her trade. Two of her favorites are a teddy bear and fabric doll she uses to help expose her patients to the medical monitoring devices they might see, such as an anesthesia mask or blood pressure cuff.

“We talk about the different devices, and then I help them draw those medical devices on the doll to demonstrate how it will be used on them,” says Rose. “They can share that doll with family members, teachers or friends and that helps reinforce what we talked about.”

Rose practices the art of “medical play” using a teddy bear to demonstrate how the medical devices will be used. After working with the teddy bear, more times than not, the child will then have the confidence to try the devices on themselves. Along with the doll and teddy bear, Rose often sends her patients home with a medical kit that includes reminders of her preparation session with them. This gives the child a chance to master what they went through prior to their surgery.

For some of her youngest patients, the best way to learn is from each other. If Rose has several patients around the same age, she will bring them together in a group. “We go through the same lessons, but if a child sees one of their peers try on the anesthesia mask, they build the confidence they need to try it on too.”

One of her most powerful tools is language. Depending on a child’s age and development, Rose is very calculated in the language she uses. “I don’t ask, ‘do you want to try on the blood pressure cuff?’ Instead, I ask ‘which arm would you like to try the cuff on?’”

Rose refers to this type of language as “soft words.”

“The approach makes a big difference,” says Rose. “If I ask one of my teen patients if they want to hear about what is going to happen, they often say no. Instead, I spend time getting to know them, building their trust, and that eventually evolves into preparation.”

Rose’s ultimate goal is to empower her patients, so that they are confident in facing their upcoming medical challenges and assured that their entire care team is there for them every step of the way.

To learn more about the Child Life Program at Miller Children’s & Women’s, visit


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