For Those Who Wait, Good Things

In the preoperative care unit of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, nurses and doctors know Josie Connor as the volunteer who plays Red Light, Green Light with kids who zip through the hallways on Little Tikes ride-on cars.

“Green light!” Connor calls out, as she raises the traffic signal prop she created to initiate a mad dash on the fourth floor.

A graduate student in Towson University’s child life, administration and family collaboration program, Connor volunteers weekly to help children awaiting medical procedures and surgeries. “The lull before surgery can be hard and can feel like a long wait for kids and families,” Connor says. “My role is to provide support and use playful activities to help children through a situation that can be stressful and difficult.”

Wait times can extend longer than anticipated, and kids can get bored. Nothing makes time pass more quickly than play, and fun, hands-on activities can offer stress relief to those sitting and waiting anxiously. “I’ve convinced a lot of kids, teenagers, and even parents and guardians to ease the anxiety by keeping their hands busy and creating things with Play-Doh,” Connor says.

Connor says it’s the little things that engage the senses and inspire the imagination — little things like Play-Doh — that make a real difference in a setting such as the preoperative care unit. Coloring books for both children and adults, too, provide opportunities for creative expression and for calm, and Connor makes sure to keep some on hand as she circulates throughout the open-curtain unit.

When Connor graduates from her program and earns certification as a child life specialist, part of her job will involve educating kids, teens and their families about diagnoses and treatments, and developing coping plans for those admitted to the hospital. These plans use not only play but also distraction techniques, breathing exercises and guided imagery to reduce fear and to put patients’ minds at ease.   

“When I go out into my career, I’ll take with me the many evidence-based techniques and theories I’ve learned in my program, and everything I’ve learned at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center through the amazing mentorship from other child life specialists and the patients and families I’ll never forget,” says Connor.