Specialist at Castleview Aims to Improve Young Patients’ Healthcare Experiences

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Knowing the fear that children often encounter at the time of surgery, Castleview Hospital was excited to take action in helping children become more comfortable in the hospital setting by hiring a child life specialist nearly three years ago.

While child life specialists usually work at children’s hospitals or large community hospitals, Castleview was excited to bring a big city position to a small town atmosphere. Belinda Thayn, the area’s lone child life specialist, works at the local hospital to prepare and comfort children during the surgery process.

“We are supporting kids developmentally and emotionally in the hospital,” Thayn explained. “We aim to reduce the fear and trauma that may be associated with health care services.”

One of the main ways to prepare children for these experiences is the hospital’s pre-op prep class. The class, taught every Tuesday evening, allows future young patients and their parents to become more familiar with what takes place during a planned surgery.

“Castleview’s pre-op prep is a free class and tour for parents and their children ages 2-12 who are scheduled to have surgery or dental sedation,” the hospital’s brochure shares. “The class is taught by our certified child life specialist who is trained to provide psychosocial care for children in the hospital setting.”

The prep includes a tour of the hospital and surgical rooms, involvement in a healthcare play activity to familiarize children with the sights, sounds and medical tools in the hospital, and an opportunity for children as well as parents to ask questions and voice concerns.

“When you play with children, the situation becomes less threatening and they are more likely to tell you their real feelings and express themselves” Thayn said. “I also do a lot of parent education; what is going to happen after surgery and how you can support your child emotionally. When I am preparing a kid, I am really preparing parents as well.”

During the pre-op prep class, Thayn helps children make decisions on how they want her to help them during the procedure. For example, children can decide if they want to walk to the surgery room or if they want to ride in a wagon. They can also decide if that want to be read to or if they want a toy to distract them while they are going to sleep with anesthesia. These decisions give children a sense of control over a possibly overwhelming situation. In addition to the class, Thayn is also available while children are preparing for surgery and when they are waking following a procedure. Thayn employs multiple distraction and coping techniques during times when children are often disoriented and frightened. 

While Thayn encourages all parents to enroll their children in the free pre-op prep course, there are ways that children can be prepared at home for an upcoming surgery.

“If my child was coming into the hospital, I would want to be able to prepare them the best that I can,” she said. “Think about your child’s developmental level and think about how to play through the process with them to help them understand. You can use a toy Doctor kit and a stuffed animal.  If your child is older, talk with them and be completely honest about what will happen during the process. If your child tells you they are scared or nervous, validate that feeling and work together to come up with a plan for getting through the tough parts. Maybe it’s a secret signal, a special toy, or a deep breathing exercise.” 

For more information or to register your child for a pre-surgery class, please call Castleview Hospital at (435) 636-4847. The class is available for free to all children regardless of if a planned procedure is taking place at Castleview or another hospital.

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