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Becoming a Child Life Specialist

Let me start by saying that I am not speaking on behalf of the Child Life Council, and that, in fact, they are the authoritative organization on becoming a child life specialist. I would encourage anyone interested in pursuing a career in child life to read the information available on their website. Additionally, they offer some fantastic services to help you determine certain criteria.

Now, with that being said, I am sure, dear reader, that you have read the page that talked about what child life does at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. (If not, check it out – insert link to that page.) I know that when some people read it, they want to know what they have to do to become a child life specialist. Surprised? Don’t be, we field about 4 or 5 communications a week about what it takes. So, I thought that I would start from the beginning and talk you through the process of becoming a child life specialist.

Child life specialists are degreed, certified professionals. The first step to becoming one is to have the right education. Typical degrees in the field are child development, child and family studies, human development and family studies, and others. These are not the exclusive degrees, but are certainly common ones. The Child Life Council requires course work in Child Life, Child, Family, or Human Development, Family Dynamics, Psychology, Counseling, Sociology, Therapeutic Recreation, and Expressive Therapies. They have a great resource on picking an academic program, just click here to check it out.

So, after you’ve meet the academic requirements, you will need to complete an internship with a certified child life specialist, who has at least 4000 hours of clinical experience. There are internships at most (if not all) major children’s hospitals. They can be competitive, so be sure to check out application deadlines months in advance. If you find an internship site that you are interested in, contact them and find out if there are things you can do to make yourself more competitive. For instance, we look at how much volunteer time a potential intern has working with a child life program.

The bottom line is that you need to make sure that you stick out as a candidate. This may mean that you have a strong grasp on developmental theories, or that you have had fantastic interactions with both hospitalized and non-hospitalized children. I recommend preparing for an internship interview in the same way that you might prepare for a job interview. As I said earlier, these can be competitive positions. For instance, at most we take two interns, three times a year.

If you’re interested in our internship, click on this link.

Once you have completed the above steps, you would then be eligible to sit for Child Life Certifying Exam. This is a comprehensive exam on the field, given by the Child Life Certifying Commission. The Child Life Council has prepared a wonderful Candidates Manual, which I highly recommend everyone interested in getting into the field read.

Having done all of the steps listed above (and assuming that you passed your certification exam), you would then be a Certified Child Life Specialist. I know that all of this can seem overwhelming, but just take it one step at a time. Remember patients and families have specific needs and deserve to have the best-trained individuals to help them through the experience. And in the end, that’s why we really do all of this.

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Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center is a leading children's hospital in the Mid South, providing pediatric care to children from 95 counties in six states.
50 N. Dunlap Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103 • (901) 287-KIDS