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Delta names Gray inaugural Child Life Specialist of the Year

Mar. 7, 2019, 10:55 AM

Sarah Beth Gray was recently named the inaugural Child Life Specialist of the Year by Delta Air Lines.
Sarah Beth Gray was recently named the inaugural Child Life Specialist of the Year by Delta Air Lines. (photo by John Russell)

by Jessica Pasley

A mama just knows.

As a student at the University of Mississippi, a career as a child life specialist wasn’t on Sarah Beth Gray’s radar. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t offered as a major.

Luckily, Gray’s mother, a longtime preschool and day care owner, knew her daughter’s heart.

“My mom discovered the field of child life after searching on the internet for a career that best suited my passion for helping children and my desire to work in the medical field,” said Gray, a Certified Child Life Specialist II at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “She told me about it. It seemed like the perfect fit and I changed my major from psychology to family and consumer science to pursue a career in child life.

“When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor. I grew up in an environment seeing someone help and teach children. My mom couldn’t have found a better career for me.”

Gray was recently named the inaugural Child Life Specialist of the Year by Delta Air Lines. Delta, in partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, created the award to honor the hard work and compassion of child life specialists while bringing awareness about the need for funding to support them at children’s hospitals nationwide.

She is one of 28 child life specialists at Children’s Hospital who use preparation, play and knowledge in child development to improve the health care experience of children, teens and families.

Gray has spent 13 years in the field. She joined Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in 2008 in the Department of Radiology.

“As a child life student, I was exposed to the Radiology Department, and while interviewing for jobs, I was able to speak to the role of the child life specialist within that unit. I’ve chosen to stay within that specialty since starting my very first job. I’m lucky to have found a job that I love.”

In 2012 she was asked by radiology leadership to assist with a quality improvement project for children receiving Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Gray created the Patient Awake While Scanned (PAWS) MRI program.

The program, implemented in 2013, has empowered 750 patients to complete MRI scans without receiving general anesthesia and has served as a model for other hospitals around the country.

“Our main goal was to decrease the sedation rate for children undergoing MRI scans, which can be intimidating, noisy, quite lengthy and requires a child to lie still.

“I have felt so supported while working with this program and I am lucky to work at an institution that supports and encourages my ideas. What started out as an idea has grown into an accepted process by many different disciplines.”

Janet Cross, MEd, CCLS, CPXP, administrative director, Patient- and Family-Centered Care at Children’s Hospital, nominated Gray for the award.

“Sarah Beth is talented, creative and hardworking,” said Cross. “When she arrived here, she quickly established her role while building the foundation for the child life program in radiology.

“Her leadership with the team in creating the PAWS MRI program is demonstrative of her creativity, clinical expertise, initiative and work ethic. She is a role model with colleagues and with students, always putting the patient and family first.”

Cross said the award is a great opportunity to highlight both Gray’s work and that of the entire child life team at Children’s Hospital as well as serve as a platform to educate others about the impact that child life has on a patient and family’s health care experience.

Delta presented Gray with two round-trip tickets in the United States and a $15,000 check to Children’s Hospital to further the work of the child life Program. The funds will help purchase additional movie goggles and headphones worn by PAWS MRI patients to allow them to watch a movie during their scan.

Gray said she was thrilled her work and specialty are being recognized.

“Child life specialists’ work can be misinterpreted as just play or as not important,” she said. “We are constantly advocating for our work, which becomes a daily opportunity to educate others.

“We have the ability to impact a child, adolescent and family in the medical environment. We are on the front lines of helping them navigate and cope with the many stressors that accompany a hospital stay or outpatient procedure,” she said. “This award is another exciting opportunity to spread the word about our field and the great work we are doing.”

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