Child Life News

Introducing The 2016 Research Recognition Award Recipients

Emily Carlton, CCLS Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Baltimore, MD Jenni Davis, MA, CCLS, LRT/CTRS Sidra Medical and Research Center, Doha, Qatar
Jan 05, 2017
The Research and Scholarship Committee is excited to introduce winners for both the inaugural Student Research Recognition Award and the Professional Research Recognition Award. Kayleigh McQuaid, MS, CCLS and Laurie Wagerman, BA, who completed their research as graduate students at Towson University, are the inaugural winners of the Student Research Recognition Award. Their research was detailed in an unpublished paper, GBMC and Child Life. Katherine Bennett, Med, CCLS, is the child life specialist awarded the professional award. She and her research team, which included nurses, professors, child life students and statisticians, published “The Effect of Directed Medical Play on Young Children’s Pain and Distress During Burn Wound Care” (Moore, Bennett, Dietrich, & Wells, 2015) in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care. This article was also reprinted in Child Life Focus in 2015.
In their study, Kayleigh and Laurie took their passion for child life outside of the classroom and explored ways to improve the delivery of health care in their community with the addition of child life services. GBMC and Child Life explored the perceived need for the addition of child life services in the combined pediatric care unit at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), a community hospital in Towson, Maryland. With support from a physician at GBMC and numerous others within their academic community at Towson University, the researchers sought to specifically research parent and professional perspectives on the delivery of pediatric care at this and other institutions by collecting data on what aspects required improvement. Their data was used to inform the need for the consistent provision of child life services.

Their mixed methods approach included utilizing a comprehensive literature review, printed and electronic surveys, and focus groups. Of note, three different surveys were created and disseminated: one for medical professionals at GBMC; another for families of children who encountered medical care at GBMC; and a third for child life professionals to gather information on how existing child life programs were started and what they considered essential for a new program. Two focus groups were created, a family focus group for parents of children who were previously hospitalized at GBMC (6 initial participants), and a professional focus group comprised of interdisciplinary staff members from the pediatric combined care unit (4 initial participants). Transcripts from each focus group were reviewed to identify recurring themes within responses. The data collected from pediatric patients and their parents as well as medical staff was used to identify areas of stress faced by children and families during hospitalization. “Responses indicated a need for services that could aid children in coping with their fears and stress; distraction techniques; teaching materials such as dolls to demonstrate procedures; medical play opportunities; developmentally appropriate toys/activities and alternative restraint methods” (McQuaid & Wagerman, 2015).

This research project was chosen for the inaugural student award in part because the format of the research could be replicated in other settings and have implications for introducing child life services in other community hospitals. This research project was part of a larger movement toward providing child life services at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which came to fruition in 2016. It is the hope of the award reviewers that Kayleigh and Laurie, along with other child life graduate students completing research, will pursue publishing their research so that others may more fully benefit from results of their labor.

Katherine Bennett, the recipient of the Professional Research Recognition Award, is currently a child life specialist working in the educator role for Child Life and Volunteer Services at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She completed her undergraduate studies at Freed-Hardeman University and graduate work at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. Katherine remembers having an interest in completing research in the field of child life as early as her internship and feels strongly about the importance of research to validate child life interventions. While she had been a part of a number of quality improvement research projects previously, this article is her first published research.

Katherine credits the multidisciplinary team, including seasoned researchers Nancy Well, DNSc, RN, FAAN, and Elizabeth “Bette” Moore, PhD, RN, for the success of this five-year project. They used their expertise in conducting research to mentor Katherine, a less experienced researcher, while still letting her do much of the work. The experiential learning that took place helped enrich the project and highlights the value of collaboration. The researchers began with a literature review, which highlighted gaps in use of play in health care settings and a lack of research specific to burn care. To address these gaps, the team hypothesized that children in the burn clinic who participated in medical play would experience less pain and distress than those who received standard care, which was preparation for the dressing change by a clinic nurse. The study also sought to understand the role of medical play as a potential mitigator of parental distress. The research design was quasi-experimental, with participants being assigned to the intervention or control groups based on the day of their burn clinic appointment. Parents’ anxiety and satisfaction were measured at the beginning and conclusion of each visit. Children in each group rated their pain before and after the dressing change, and each child’s pain and distress behaviors were scored by a trained observer during the dressing change. Children in the intervention group participated in medical play led by a child life specialist. While medical play sessions followed a standard script with the same medical equipment available each time, the child life specialist could still adjust to meet the needs of each child. Although none of the findings were statistically significant due to the small samples size, all findings were in the hypothesized direction and were clinically significant. According to Katherine, while the project “took a long time and had lots of bumps in the road, the consistency of the research design and literature review were the foundations that made a big difference.”

This research project was chosen for the professional award because it met so many of the qualities of a good research project. It addressed an actual gap in existing research uncovered in the preliminary literature review. It worked around a dilemma that child life specialists often struggle with: the fear of withholding interventions in order to create a control group. In providing child intervention in a new setting, the design of this project demonstrated one way in which this concern can be ethically addressed. Finally, the implementation and data analysis were strong, and along with the design, could be replicated in other settings. It is the hope of the award reviewers that other child life specialists will follow Katherine’s example of collaborating with the multidisciplinary team members to research the efficacy of child life interventions to improve outcomes for patients and their families.

The Professional Research Recognition Award honors significant work by a child life specialist and the Student Research Recognition Award acknowledges significant work conducted by a student. Both awards celebrate research initiatives that contribute to theory and practice within the field of child life. To be eligible for consideration for the awards, research had to have been IRB-approved, and submissions for the professional award had to have been published in a peer reviewed journal within the last two years. Research teams had to include at least one CLC member or child life student, and research had to address a facet of child life. Applications were evaluated on how well the research demonstrated the value and effectiveness of child life, increased knowledge, improved techniques, or advanced the field of child life. In addition, the research design, implementation, and analysis were carefully evaluated.

We encourage Child Life Council members to spread the news about both awards to individuals who may be interested in applying for next year’s awards. Information about the 2017 Research Awards will be available on the CLC website.


Moore, E. R., Bennett, K. L., Dietrich, M. S., & Wells, N. (2015). The Effect of Directed Medical Play on Young Children’s Pain and Distress During Burn Wound Care. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 29(3), 265-273. Doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2014.12.006

Wagerman, L. & McQuaid, K. (2015). GBMC and Child Life. Unpublished manuscript, Towson University, Towson, MD.

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