Meet Sarah: Certified Child Life Specialist

Sarah Keyes knew she wanted a career working with children in the medical setting, so when she learned about child life degrees she knew it was the perfect path for her.

“I absolutely love being able to provide care to pediatric patients and families knowing that I can make a scary or unexpected visit to the hospital a little bit better for them,” Sarah says. 

Sarah’s current role in the pediatric emergency department at UW Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital is unique among child life specialists. It’s a fast-paced environment where she sees many children during her shift and works with a diverse population of patients.

Sarah notes that only a handful of hospitals in the United States have child life specialists in their emergency departments. She helped start the 24/7 program that provides child life services overnight not only to the emergency department, but also all inpatient units and operating rooms. “Many scary events and new admissions occur overnight, and to be able to be there for our patients and families during some of the most vulnerable hours is truly amazing,” she adds.

While Sarah works with patients of all ages, her two favorite age groups are preschoolers and adolescents. She says watching preschoolers use their imagination while they engage in fantasy play and explore the world around them is beyond fascinating and fun to watch!

With adolescents, Sarah finds reward in being able to build trust and rapport. “They sometimes need more support than younger children,” Sarah says. “To be in a role where I can provide that to them, I consider myself lucky.”

Her colleagues clearly see themselves as the lucky ones. Sarah was recently nominated by one of her peers for a Nursing Excellence Award—a prestigious UW Health honor that recognizes nurses and patient care services employees who display an exemplary spirit of caring and dedication to patients.

Her nomination states that Sarah is “A true patient advocate who doesn’t hesitate to stand up for the patient’s best interest. She is always organized and prepared to provide developmentally and culturally appropriate care to every patient and family she interacts with. She truly meets people where they are at in life and in dealing with the health issue at hand.”

Sarah has been a child life specialist for nine years and worked at two organizations before coming to UW Health. She says, “There is something special about our Child Life Program at American Family Children's Hospital. We are incredibly well respected and an integral part of care throughout the organization, which is amazing in itself.”

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