Our resident child life specialist Kelsey Cramer had a unique journey that led to her current role working at a Los Angeles-area hospital that included music, teaching, and her own personal health challenges. Here is her story.

During my music career, I performed as well as worked as an educator for various performing art studios. My philosophy included a strong focus on developing confidence in children of all ages. I focused on the importance of the process when becoming a performer rather than the product of a given performance. This means a child that took lessons from me would not only gain skills in developing/utilizing their craft, but also be led in exercises to help them identify their own unique strengths, coping skills, and abilities to master their fears. 

Around the same time, I volunteered for camps dedicated to families dealing with cancer diagnoses, in different hospitals, and in assisted living programs, playing music and leading musical events. It was during these different experiences that I rediscovered the work Child Life does. I found this line of work to uniquely connect my overall goals while also helping people conquer experiences during some of the most challenging moments in their life.

Personally, I encountered my own health journey from a young age of 15, where I was in and out of hospitals until about the age of 19. I first learned about Child Life during these experiences, however, it took me some time to heal physically and emotionally to be ready to pursue a medical career. I do believe having my own personal experiences in the hospital setting has aided in my ability to empathize with others facing illness as well as strengthen my comfort level working in healthcare. Everyone’s story is unique, whether acute or chronic, and I encourage the mentality of “I can’t understand your situation fully, but I can empathize and am here to walk with you” when supporting families. 

Today, I work with children of all ages in both chronic and acute settings in the hospital environment. This means I might support families diagnosed with cancer or facing other life threatening illnesses, or support a frightened child receiving a vaccine. I offer support in various ways, including helping families communicate openly with their kids about what’s going on, offering coping strategies, and aiding with calming exercises, to name a few.

Being able to relate to life with a child invites another layer of empathy in the joy and challenges parenting can invite. I myself have a 4 year old who, you could say, has had VERY strong feelings and meltdowns when it comes to going to the doctor or getting a haircut. Being the parent of a child who demonstrates anxiety in these more frightening settings has strengthened my ability to relate, connect, and have real conversations with families based on not only what the textbook says, but my own personal experiences. I can empathize with the phrase “easier said than done” as some of these ideas I find myself presenting to families in my daily work can be difficult to implement. Being a parent has allowed me to be more realistic in my interventions and therapeutic opportunities I offer to patients and families.

I am very excited to be a part of such a wonderful growing project as a contributor to Piper + Enza. I hope to offer some expertise from the viewpoint of the Child Life Specialist and support more families in the community. I also think we can learn so much from one another and together we can create a village to better support our children. I am hoping to offer, learn, and support in any way I can. 

Kelsey Cramer is a Los Angeles-area child life specialist and a Piper + Enza expert contributor.