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Vassar on the Front Lines

Voices from a Pandemic

Nicole Wood ’12

Nicole Wood is a Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and KidZoneTV Producer in the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in New York City. According to the Association of Child Life Professionals, Certified Child Life Specialists are, “… educated and clinically trained in the developmental impact of illness and injury. Their role helps improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and overall experience.”


Submitted August 14, 2020

As a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), I am trained to provide comfort during crisis. I have worked in a multitude of pediatric environments, including the PICU/NICU, Hematology/Oncology inpatient unit and outpatient clinic, ED, General Pediatrics, and Palliative Care. Expanding upon my background in the arts (I was a Drama major at Vassar!), I specialize in the facilitation and exploration of video production as a therapeutic modality for patients and families. From video scrapbooks to sibling interviews to legacy montages depicting a child’s “heroic quest” throughout their medical journey, I empower children, adolescents, and caregivers to share their stories – in their own words and medium of their choice.

Because there is so much that is out of a hospitalized child’s control, the process of video production can be a deeply healing and uniquely empowering experience. Suddenly, they get to call the shots as “director,” “producer,” “star,” or the role of their choice. Their hospital room can instantly transform into a film set straight out of their imagination. Sometimes, they choose to invite their nurses to join a bedside dance party or doctor for a gaming competition in their hospital rooms. If they prefer to stay off-camera, we can record voice-over narration and display their artwork, use puppets, stop motion animation, green screen, etc. Patients can even choose to reverse roles with their medical team or family and cast them as actors in their stories.

“Because there is so much that is out of a hospitalized child’s control, the process of video production can be a deeply healing and uniquely empowering experience. Suddenly, they get to call the shots as ‘director,’ ‘producer,’ ‘star,’ or the role of their choice.”

Throughout our work together, pediatric patients get to embrace being a kid in a hospital environment by engaging in therapeutic play and storytelling. As a result of our work together, either I or one of my colleagues will share the final video product with caregivers as a lasting memory. Our work has been featured in the New York Times and I have presented on Video Therapy and Child Life both locally and nationally. Additionally, I produce and host live programming for KidZoneTV, a closed-circuit television studio located right off the lobby of Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in NYC. For more, please read https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/29/nyregion/childrens-hospital-tv-station.html

On a more serious note, I am often referred to follow complex cases as they near end of life with the goal of providing legacy-building interventions or positive memory-making experiences for families. Every case is unique, and patients and families are empowered with the choice of how they would like to share or privately document their stories, precious memories between patients and their families, recording moments of laughter and play, or to create any video of their imagination.

I share this to illustrate that I have experience working with life and death scenarios, and nothing could have prepared me for the COVID-19 crisis.

Within the medical community, we were well-aware of early reports from Wuhan and the Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital was incredibly proactive in taking precautions. However, we found ourselves at the epicenter of a global pandemic. My team and I developed a series of goals: (1) to provide comfort to pediatric patients and families during the crisis, (2) to create educational videos for children of a range of ages, using developmentally-appropriate language to talk about COVID-19 and to guide parents in these difficult conversations, and (3) to share videos with therapeutic interventions to provide comfort to our larger community during this crisis.

“I have experience working with life and death scenarios, and nothing could have prepared me for the COVID-19 crisis.”

Alongside my KidZoneTV team, I produced the “Child Life COVID-19 Video Series” to meet these goals. Child Life Specialists are trained to use developmentally-appropriate language to educate children and families about illness. In this series, I created a series of scripts for a range of ages to educate children and families about COVID-19. The videos ranged in tone and style to provide developmentally-appropriate language for different age groups. For example, the preschool video featured a colleague speaking to a puppet (played by me) to engage in dialogue about “what is a germ,” explore feelings about coronavirus and provide education and support with an arts and crafts exercise. For the school-age video, I spoke directly to the camera, imagining I was speaking directly with a child using humor, warmth, and developmentally-appropriate language. When we published these videos on the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department’s social media channels, we had no idea how much traction these videos would get! The videos began to be shared widely, were featured on the PBS Kids website, and were translated into Spanish to expand the scope of children and families served. The Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP) featured our series on their COVID-19 resources page and became readily available as a tool to Child Life Specialists working with children and families around the world.

“When we published these videos on the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department’s social media channels, we had no idea how much traction these videos would get!”

I was greatly inspired by how we could think outside of the box and find creative ways to provide education about COVID-19 to children and comfort to families, with dozens more ideas and plans to translate videos into more languages, as well as produce continued updates as latest COVID-19 research became available. However, I woke up with a high fever (103.1) a few months ago and am currently on medical leave for protracted recovery from COVID-19. I am followed by Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital Precision Recovery daily and my doctor has called me “one of the pioneers” as they study cases like mine to learn more about the virus and its impact on bodies.

I now understand this pandemic from two perspectives – the perspective of a healthcare provider on the frontlines and now as a patient too.


Here are some of the videos I produced with my KidZone TV team to raise morale, provide comfort, and share age-appropriate resources about COVID-19.

All videos are courtesy of Mount Sinai.

Handwashing Karaoke

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=794701664388403

COVID-19 for School-Age Kids

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=512518946317577

COVID-19 for Parents / Conversation Starter

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=267640057567628

COVID-19 for Preschoolers

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=313791792938116

Relaxing Breath Arts and Crafts

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=794669944389732

For latest works and more from my incredible colleagues, follow @kztvlive and @mschildlife on Instagram and The Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department page on Facebook.

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