Resourcefulness leads to fulfilling career working with children in health care

Resourcefulness leads to fulfilling career working with children in health care

M ary Mason Beale’s, ’17, path to becoming a certified child life specialist (CCLS) was about taking initiative. She loved psychology and working with children. Although Georgia College didn’t offer a child life track, she met a classmate who became her mentor and encouraged Beale to pursue her graduate degree in this field. 

She recalls her class with Dr. John Lindsay Jr., professor emeritus of psychology, when a girl named Becca introduced herself and told the class she aspired to become a child life specialist. 

Mary Mason Beale brings in a llama for a coworker's birthday.
Mary Mason Beale brings in a llama for a coworker's birthday.

“Child life was something I could definitely see myself doing,” said Beale. “So, Becca served as a mentor for me throughout my application process and grad school at East Carolina University and my application process for clinical practicum and internship.”

Beale also sought help from the Career Center at Georgia College.

“I had to be very intentional of how I set up my undergraduate experience,” she said. “The Career Center would tear apart my resume, cover letter and statement of purpose for grad school with red pen all over the place. Then, I’d fix it, and we’d repeat the process until I had the perfect resume. As a result, I got into three out of four of my grad schools of choice, which is huge.”

She enjoyed her GC professors, especially Dr. Dana Wood, who taught development psychology and Dr. Lee Gillis, chair, Department of Psychological Science.

“Dr. Wood was such a huge help in supporting me with this career that she reviewed my resume and paperwork for graduate school,” said Beale. “I did an independent study with her that tailored to what I needed for this profession. She was just an incredible professor.”

“Dr. Gillis helped me gain valuable insight into the world of research in his Adventure Therapy Research Lab,” she said.

Now, Beale provides psychosocial care for children from birth to 18 years, who come to visit the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare’s Northeast Emergency Center. Her goal is to make sure the children understand what’s happening to them at all times. She wants them to realize the hospital does not have to be a traumatic experience.

“I prepare them for their procedures—what they’re going to see, touch, smell, taste or hear—the sensory aspects,” she said. “I break down what will occur, so a child can understand it. I’m going to describe stitches differently to a 3-year-old than I am to a 14-year-old. With 3-year-olds, they’re going to be ‘string Band-Aids.’ With 14-year-olds, the description will be more advanced.”

“I just love seeing children succeed when they didn’t think they would, especially, a fearful or anxious child. I also like seeing how preparation reduces their fears and anxiety. Because when you can understand something, it makes it a lot less scary. Seeing a child go from screaming, crying and not complying to being completely cool as a cucumber and able to refocus their attention on my distraction methods is the most rewarding part of my job.”
– Mary Mason Beale
She provides support during procedures, and carries a little bag of surprises to refocus the patients’ attention on something else.

“I have virtual reality goggles I use to give their brain a job and focus on something other than the procedure,” she said. “I also carry bubbles, light spinners, I-spy books—all sorts of fun stuff.”

Because this was a newer position, Beale had to take initiative and do a lot of fundraising for toys for children to play with during treatment in the Emergency Center. 

“I took the lead on planning a teddy bear clinic for children in the community,” she said. “I looked up different grants to get funding for a mobile playroom for our location that has different toys you can bring them for normalization to take home or as a prize after a hard procedure.” 

Mary Mason Beale interacts with a child during the Teddy Bear Clinic.
Mary Mason Beale interacts with a child during the Teddy Bear Clinic.

Beale got her start in fundraising her sophomore year as a dancer in Georgia College Miracle’s Dance Marathon. Then, her junior year, she became a morale leader, helping to raise over $100,000—more than they did the previous year.

“Seeing all the leaders’ passion for children made me want to do more,” she said. “I helped get everybody pumped for dance marathon. Seeing that impact of how much good the money was going to do made me want to get involved even more.”

Beale joined the executive board her senior year and was in charge of outreach, where she contacted community members and Georgia College faculty to see if they wanted to be a miracle maker.

“I’d help the other students, so they could raise as much money as possible,” Beale said. “We raised $222,492.56 that year. It was one of the top five moments of my life when we had our total reveal at Dance Marathon in April 2017. I was crying on stage, because I did not expect to raise that much money. Our goal was $175,000. I didn’t even know if we’d reach that. And then we blew it out of the water. That’s a moment I like to relive again and again.”

Her biggest challenge is advocating for children for atraumatic care and using child-friendly methods with staff who aren’t used to working with a certified child life specialist.  

Beale prepares for the Teddy Bear Clinic.
Beale prepares for the Teddy Bear Clinic.

“It’s been difficult to get staff to try my atraumatic care methods,” she said. “There are several methods to use. It just takes patience and some coming around to. It’s been really difficult to sway people to try methods they aren’t used to that make the hospital a less overwhelming experience for children.”

The secret to her successful career is being a flexible team member. Every morning, Beale looks at the census board to see how many children she’ll are at the Emergency Room. When it’s slow, she brings patients from the lobby to their rooms, cleans rooms and gets supplies for the nurses. When it’s busy, she starts her protocol.

“I bring in toys at the beginning to gain the children’s trust and establish rapport,” she said. “I ask them about themselves—just something to build that relationship really quickly. And from there I do preparation for procedures, procedural support and debriefing. I give prizes after to reward their effort when they’ve worked really hard.”

Every day, she’s amazed by her patients’ resilience.

“I just love seeing children succeed when they didn’t think they would, especially, a fearful or anxious child,” said Beale. “I also like seeing how preparation reduces their fears and anxiety. Because when you can understand something, it makes it a lot less scary. Seeing a child go from screaming, crying and not complying to being completely cool as a cucumber and able to refocus their attention on my distraction methods is the most rewarding part of my job.”