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Katie Brazel: Preparing children for their hospital visit

By Hillete Warner

Katie Brazel is a Child Life Specialist in the operating room and leader of the Pre-Operative Education Program at SickKids. She has worked as a Child Life Specialist in Urology, Surgery, Burns and Plastic Surgery, the Heart Centre and ambulatory clinics. Collaborating with the Pre-Anaesthesia program, Brazel has developed, promoted and expanded education and therapeutic activities for patients undergoing surgery. She completed her diploma in child life studies at McMaster University and received a fine arts degree from the University of Victoria in BC.

“SickKids is committed to supporting the education of our patients and their families” says Kelly McMillen, Director of the SickKids Learning Institute.  “The work that Katie is leading in the Pre-Operative Preparation Program exemplifies this commitment and helps to prepare children and their families for surgery.”

Q & A with Katie Brazel

What is the Pre-Operative Preparation Program?

It is a fun and educational program that helps children and their families prepare for surgery.  They meet with a Child Life Specialist and a Pre-Anaesthesia nurse to ask questions and learn about what will happen on the day of surgery. The one-hour program includes information and interactive play, where patients can look at pictures of the hospital environment and play with real medical equipment. When patients play with the equipment it becomes less threatening and when they see it in the room they feel as though they can cope because they know what is going to happen. During the session, patients can address any issues or concerns that they have and build a plan to help them feel less anxious, feel in control and help them to cope through the surgical experience.

Child Life also meets with patients on the day of surgery to provide additional support and facilitate the implementation of their coping plan. After the procedure, specialists help patients cope and adjust to different changes. They also ensure that development is being supported by providing socialization opportunities if they are a teen, or developmental toys and activities if they are younger.

Is there a particular education initiative at SickKids that inspires you?
I am very excited about a new initiative that we are about to launch in the Child Life department – the Child Life clinics, which are sessions that patients and families can attend to address specific or general coping strategies regarding their illness or hospitalization. I am excited about the educational opportunities it will provide. The program will address needle anxiety, procedural psychological preparation, pill swallowing support, coping with diagnosis or hospitalization, and sedation or general anesthetic preparation.

How does learning make SickKids a better place?
Having access to the most current research makes everyone’s practice better. Attending rounds and discussing current research and its impact on our clinical practice help us to stay at the forefront of our practice. Also, working in a learning environment with students facilitates ongoing learning for everyone.

What makes working at SickKids special?
SickKids is special because it provides a wide range of services to patients and families and offers a very high standard of care. In my role, I support the normalization of the hospital environment and assist with the development of coping skills. Having access to SickKids’ resources such as iPads, recreation spaces and interactive activities is really useful. Working closely with many top medical professionals is inspiring, and so is witnessing the changes that they make to their service and the direct impact it has on families.

How do you envision education in the future?
I think it will be web/video conference-based. Having the ability to share our grand rounds with other hospitals furthers everyone's learning. Someday, I hope to tune into international rounds through video conferencing. I hope SickKids will continue to support its employees by providing educational opportunities and encouraging attendance at professional conferences.

Who was your all-time favorite educator, and why?
Linda Skinner was the clinical and academic manager of the Child Life department at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, where I completed my second Child Life internship. Linda met with interns one-on-one every week to discuss the larger picture of the Child Life profession and to ensure that learning goals were being created and met. Given how busy she was in her role, I greatly appreciated the time she took to meet with me, and I respected how important it was to her to have an active role in the intern’s education. Linda had a lifelong career in Child Life and played an active role in making the profession what it is today.  She is a legend within the profession and it was an honour to work with her.