She has worked in settings as diverse as the most state-of-the-art children’s hospitals in Boston to very poor clinics in South Africa. But whatever context she works in, Camille Adler’s dedication to helping children adjust to hospital life remains a constant.
Recently Adler – a Mattapoisett native on the verge of finishing her Bachelor’s degree – was recognized as a service leader at her school, Wheelock College.
Adler is graduating this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development with a focus in Children, Families and Culture and a professional major in Child Life, a new occupation developed over the past few decades to help “ease [families] into the experience of being in a hospital.”
“You basically work in a pediatric medical setting with families and help them adjust and prepare for procedures,” which entails programming activities for children to familiarize them with equipment and make the hospital experience more positive – she said.
For three months last summer, Adler served as a Child Life intern in the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. She worked directly with children as part of the pain management team and assisted in the burn unit dressing children’s wounds and engaging children in therapeutic play and coping techniques. She worked daily 7:00 am to 4:00 pm every day, except weekends.
“It was absolutely amazing and memorable,” Adler recalled.
Every other Tuesday, Adler traveled with doctors to townships, poorer and more remote areas in South Africa, where she volunteered setting up mobile clinics.
“You’d see shacks on top of each other. Certainly I hadn’t been anywhere like that before, but [being there] was one of my favorite parts,” she said. “You’d see people in their own element and their first impression of healthcare, and you’d see the first time some kids were getting healthcare.”
Adler said families with sick children would “go into a tiny room for hours and hours for hours to see a volunteer doctor.” Unlike hospitals in the United States, she said electronic communications was nonexistent and even basic record management was rare
Although she said she did not witness serious health complications, the doctors often would transport patients needing more extensive help in their own cars to the city hospital.
“You never knew who was going to come into room next,” she said.
Adler did say some of Cape Town’s hospitals were more technologically advanced, especially the surgical suites, and that the city attracts medical professionals for its renowned programs. However, resources still can fall short.
“Everybody is understaffed, underpaid, and under resourced. It puts a lot of stress on everybody,” Adler said.
In this environment, she said even the occasional language barrier or other restrictions did not hinder her ability to bond with the children.
“One of patients I had best relationship with was hard of hearing. We had the strongest relationship just playing,” she said, commenting that connecting with children often was easier than communicating with the adults. “It really showed the universal language of play.”
Coming back to the United States, Adler entered into a “very different” world where hospital resources are much more abundant. She interned at Boston Children’s Hospital in the oncology department. In addition to her studies and internship, she also is actively involved in the Jumpstart program, a preschool reading program and with her social sciences honor society, Pi Gamma Mu.
Looking to the future, Adler is hoping to work and possibly take some graduate courses.
“I could see going into bereavement or child psychology,” she said of her future, but ultimately, “I want to do something I’m really passionate about.”
By Laura Fedak Pedulli