A mentor is often defined as someone who is experienced and trusted. These are two words that only begin to describe Shaindy Alexander. Personally speaking, Shaindy has always been there when you need her. She is a compassionate shoulder to cry on, an attuned soundboard to discuss a difficult case with, and a creative mind to collaboratively plan a therapeutic activity together. Ten years ago, I walked into my first professional child life role and was lucky enough to find myself sharing an office space with Shaindy, who unofficially became my child life mentor. Her supportive and approachable nature is why many other child life specialists would also use the word “mentor” when talking about Shaindy.
Shaindy has spent over 20 years working at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. You can often find her connecting with kids using “Hermin,” a googley-eyed puppet that she began using with patients at the beginning of her career when she needed a quick distraction item and pulled Hermin from the treasure box. Hermin is now known hospital wide. He is worn by many staff including nurses and can be found hanging from their stethoscopes. This simple gesture helps patients feel more at ease and is used as an aid by healthcare staff to build rapport with their patients. To help patients learn more about the hospital, Shaindy created “Ask Hermin” teaching videos on YouTube, addressing some of kids most asked questions about various procedures and tests with Hermin investigating the answers.
Shaindy has been an essential member of many interprofessional teams across the hospital, including burns and plastics, complex care, oncology, and critical care. Most recently Shaindy expanded her broad child life knowledge and joined our hospital’s Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT). Under a one-year contract, Shaindy initially joined the team in the role of Grief Support Coordinator. Shaindy felt strongly that her child life skills acquired over the years could be used and adapted to help support grieving families, and she advocated to the selection committee that a child life specialist would be a good fit for the role. At the end of the year contract, in the words of Adam Rappaport, the medical director of the PACT team, “Shaindy was a resource we could not let walk away.” Recognizing the need for psychosocial support for patients and families who are in the community, the team developed the role of Community Psychosocial Support, which would combine her child life skills and passion for grief support to be able to serve patients and families who are at home. In this role since 2019, Shaindy has been able to meet families wherever is best for them -- at home, in hospice or virtually -- to ensure children who have palliative care needs are supported.
Shaindy’s motto is “we can’t keep them from suffering, but we can try to keep them from suffering for the wrong reasons,” and in her community work she is applying this to families no matter their location. The ability to provide child life support while patients are not in the hospital is essential. As we know, siblings are often absent from the hospital, which has been especially true during the past few years. When faced with this challenge during the pandemic, Shaindy leaned in. Her unparalleled ability to connect and build rapport with siblings allows for them to feel that they too have a trusted member of the healthcare team who is there for them.
Shaindy has always been committed to continuing to improve the quality of care for patients and families. Top of mind for her are the patients who are at home. These patients are often isolated from friends, not attending school on a regular basis, and in and out of the hospital. Shaindy knew that she had to create ways for teenagers to connect with their peers who have a shared lived experience. Rising to the challenge, Shaindy was creative and received funding to pilot a new peer-support group for seriously ill teenagers using virtual reality. Using this technology, teenagers can create their own avatar and meet each other virtually while they are either at home or a hospital bed. Connection to fellow peers is essential in supporting this population and aids in their coping, and Shaindy is providing teenagers the opportunity to do so in a novel way.
Shaindy’s commitment to the child life profession, leadership, and research is witnessed by many who get the chance to work alongside her. We look forward to her continued hard work in advancing support for patients and families in the community. Congratulations to Shaindy for winning this year's Mary Barkey award!