By Katie McGinnis
Although the primary objective of my 5-week visit to the Child Life department at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya in June was to simply observe the incredible work the 6 Kenyan Child Life Specialists are doing in the hospital, it quickly became apparent that the department was very hungry for any new ideas, knowledge, and resources that I could share with them from my past experience working as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at children’s hospitals in the US. Because their department is the only established Child Life program in Kenya and even on the entire continent of Africa, I quickly discovered that the Kenyan Child Life Specialists have extremely limited continuing education opportunities. The substantial costs associated with attending relevant professional conferences and webinars (which are typically based in Western countries) or purchasing memberships to professional organizations and journals unfortunately mean that traditional continuing education opportunities are almost completely out-of-reach for these practicing professionals.
Because of this, I was asked by the Child Life director if I could present on a variety of Child Life-related continuing education topics to their entire department on a weekly basis during my stay in Eldoret. In order to ensure that my presentations were relevant and truly meeting the needs of the Kenyan Child Life Specialists, I first created a comprehensive list of useful and applicable topics that I could potentially present on, and then had my professional Kenyan counterparts identify and prioritize which topics they specifically wanted to learn more about or advance their skills in. The three topics they almost unanimously identified as being most important were prioritization of patients’ needs, therapeutic activities to use with patients, and techniques for engaging patients and families in diagnosis teaching during hospitalization.
Being someone who loves hands-on presentations myself, I tried to make each educational session as didactic and practical as possible, and I also made sure to adapt the topics to what I already knew or had been learning about Kenyan culture and to the particular healthcare environment at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. During the “Prioritization of Hospitalized Patients” presentation, while I openly acknowledged that each of the Kenyan Child Life Specialists clearly has an unrealistic patient load to provide services to every day due to budgetary and human resource constraints, I attempted to show them how they could work more effectively within those constraints by identifying and prioritizing the patients on their units who are most at-risk for developing anxiety, traumatic stress, or other negative psychological outcomes (due to adverse medical experiences or hospitalization) and therefore require the most urgent Child Life interventions.
During the “Therapeutic Activities with Hospitalized Patients” presentation, I introduced the Child Life Specialists to many different practical, adaptable activities that require minimal resources and which they could carry out with patients on their units in order to achieve certain therapeutic goals, such as familiarizing children with medical equipment, helping children identify and express their emotions, helping children deal with frustration or anger, building up children’s self-image/worth, or helping children deal with grief and loss. Finally, for the “Diagnosis Teaching Tools” presentation, I demonstrated how they could utilize some of the medically themed children’s books from their department’s existing library, simple arts and crafts materials, child-friendly diagrams, real or play medical equipment and dolls/stuffed toys, and child-friendly information from specific Internet websites to carry out developmentally appropriate, engaging, and informative diagnosis teaching sessions with children and their parents in the hospital.
The positive feedback I received from the Kenyan Child Life Specialists after presenting each of these sessions was tremendous, and it made me realize how we often take the multitude of continuing education or professional development opportunities at our fingertips completely for-granted in Western cultures. How often do we unenthusiastically (or even begrudgingly) attend workshops, seminars, and conferences designed to deepen our knowledge and expertise or enhance our skills, instead of truly appreciating that we even have access to those types of learning opportunities to begin with and while our professional counterparts in developing nations are so hungry for new knowledge and would give anything to have access to those same opportunities? The next time I’m inclined to view a continuing education or professional development session as an extra “chore” to complete or just as one extra thing to add to my already-busy schedule, I sincerely hope that I’ll be able to recall the sentiments of the Kenyan Child Life Specialists and their hunger for knowledge and remember that we are incredibly fortunate to have constant access to so many diverse learning opportunities in our corner of the world.