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Spotlight: Child-Family Life Specialist Theresa Bunkers knows the “little things” count for her patients

The Child-Family Life Services team at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital helps children and families cope during lengthy hospitalizations or uncomfortable medical procedures.
Child-Family Life Specialist Theresa Bunkers provides emotional support for patients and families at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, helps create opportunities for hospitalized children to continue to meet developmental milestones and provides information, support and guidance to parents.
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Theresa Bunkers knows that any gesture, however small, can go a long way in the eyes of a child facing a serious illness.

Bunkers, a member of the Child-Family Life Services team at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and related pediatric clinics, is one of many Child-Family Life Specialists who help children and families cope during lengthy hospitalizations or uncomfortable medical procedures.

We asked Bunkers to tell us more about her role caring for young patients, and why she is passionate about her work. Scroll down to read more.

How does Child-Family Life Services support the patient and family during a hospital visit?

Child-Family Life Specialists promote effective coping through preparation, education, play and self-expression activities. We provide emotional support for families and create opportunities for hospitalized children to continue to meet developmental milestones. Because we understand that a child’s well-being depends on the support of their family, we provide information, support and guidance to parents, siblings and other family members. Child-Family Life Specialists also educate caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress. We have Child-Family Life Services at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital inpatient units, surgery center, radiology center and sedation unit. They also work in our pediatric outpatient clinics.

Why are you passionate about your work with children and families?

A hospital visit can be scary or overwhelming at any age, but that is especially true for children. My goal is always to make someone’s day a little bit better. That could mean providing age-appropriate explanations about a medical condition to patients and siblings, or acknowledging a caregiver’s struggle to balance hospital time with other demands. Each patient and family member has different needs, and giving them a positive medical experience is important to me.

What kind of activities does the staff do to help reduce stress, give patients much-needed social time and promote healing?

At Masonic Children’s Hospital, we help support and organize various celebrations throughout the year, including our Halloween party, Superhero Day, Vikings Huddle activities, playroom activities and much more. We are fortunate to work with many people who are invested in provided programming for our patients and families in order to provide normalizing experiences. Within the last two years, our department also created a smartphone app for our families to use prior to arriving at the hospital.

Learn more about our Child-Family Life Services team.

You often face emotionally difficult situations. How do you remain positive, and how do you support families in those moments?

I focus on the work. I take one situation at a time and I provide the highest level of care that I am capable of giving. Working in healthcare is not always easy and some situations are hard on everyone involved. I encourage our young patients and their families to focus on the positives—the ‘wins’ they achieved that day—while still acknowledging the challenges and validating their struggles.

What stories and moments from your job do you carry close to your heart?

Many children have left their mark on me because of their courage, resiliency—and their perfect one-liners. Kids are the best comedians. Other memories I keep close are from parents who helped me realize the importance of simple details: Sometimes little things, like having a real toothbrush, can go a long way in helping them feel “normal.”

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