I am the I in IWK: Matt Hunter (he/him), Emergency Department child life specialist

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IWK Health has a team of child life specialists working in different departments and units. As one of three child life specialists in the Emergency Department, Matt Hunter helps normalize the environment for children, adolescents, and family members so they don’t feel scared, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, or alone. The busy nature of emergency care often means a high number of patients and family members in the waiting areas. Hunter’s role is to help everyone feel comfortable and heard.

When patients are struggling, he can step in with specialized age-appropriate interventions and play that teaches coping strategies and educates patients and families about upcoming procedures. Medical play is often used to teach patients about upcoming procedures. By putting an IV or cast on a teddy bear, they can rehearse and express their understanding of their healthcare experience.

During tough procedures, Hunter is there to offer distraction. That could include using tablets, light up toys, fidget items, deep breathing practices or guided imagery, depending on their age and personal interest. It’s also often about mental and emotional support such as comfort positioning, reframing experiences, or offering positive encouragement and debriefing.

“Often, I am coming out with colouring or activity sheets and offering drinks or snacks, approaching each individual patient and family member with a smile on my face that comes from the heart to help them feel equally important. I like to think the work I do helps to make things a little bit better for patients, families, and staff,” says Hunter.

“The most rewarding part of my job, comes during or after my interventions when I am seeing patients smiling and laughing in the ED,” says Hunter. “Many of the patients I see initially are extremely afraid of the hospital or struggling with anticipation anxiety about upcoming procedures. So, when I can turn their experience into a positive one, it makes my job all worthwhile, especially since I know this experience assists with reframing their outlook on hospitals and will help with possible future visits.”