The nurturer: Sophia Hornick
A child cries from burn pains after being rescued from a house fire. A doctor tends to a kid struggling to take even the shortest of breaths. A family copes with a pediatric death.
The emergency unit of the hospital is hectic. It’s stressful, fast-paced and unpredictable.
Sophia Hornick wants to work with these patients. The Syracuse University senior plans to be a certified child life specialist to make the experience as painless as possible.
‘No family wants to go through that. It’s traumatic,’ Hornick said. ‘My experience was doing the best I could to remain calm while still being there for the family.’
That’s what child life is about: working with children and families in a hospital setting, analyzing the psychosocial aspect of the hospitalization as opposed to the medical.
Hornick participates in a practicum at the pediatric emergency department in the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University. She goes in two days a week from 6 to 11 p.m., but the limited hours rarely pose a problem.
Rachel Hannon, a certified child life specialist at Golisano, said Hornick quickly adapted to the hospital environment.
‘One part of the emergency room that is difficult is building this rapport with kids, but she’s managed to do that in a short period of time,’ said Hannon, who is also Hornick’s supervisor.
Although Hornick’s main responsibility is to shadow Hannon and observe the role of a child life specialist in an emergency unit, she interacts with the patients as much as she can.
Children often request Hornick to stay with them during a procedure, and parents are comfortable leaving their children with her when they’re away from the room, Hannon said.
If a child is waiting for a CAT scan, Hornick will bring in some toys.
‘Kids want to play, they want to be distracted,’ Hornick said. ‘They want their mind to be somewhere else if they’re in a scary environment or an unfamiliar environment.’
It doesn’t stop with the children. If parents are nervous about the procedure, Hornick will try to help them.
‘You want to create a sense of normalcy,’ Hornick said.
But nothing about the hospital is normal, especially in the emergency unit.
Both children and their families are in a stressful state when they enter the emergency unit, said Colleen Baish, who worked in pediatrics for 20 years and is now an internship placement coordinator at the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. But Hornick deals with the stress well, Baish said.
‘She’s willing to go out there and help families who are going to be experiencing some of the most critical events of their lives,’ Baish said. ‘That takes a lot in a person to be able to do that.’
For Hornick, it wasn’t an easy feat. She faced a lot of firsts at Golisano, from her first trauma victim to her first abuse case.
‘At the end of the day, you just have to realize that your role is not to become part of the family there,’ Hornick said. ‘Your role is to help them through that.’
Hornick said she was always a planner. She likes having a schedule and knowing her next move.
She used to have a focus in early childhood and special education. She officially switched her track to become a certified child life specialist in the fall.
Something about the hospital environment drew her in a way that the classroom setting never had.
‘I’ve always wanted to work with kids and families, but I did have a lot of second thoughts about teaching. But not with child life,’ she said.
The track toward becoming a certified child life specialist isn’t easy: 10 courses approved by the Child Life Council, a practicum experience, an internship and a certification exam.
Hornick is almost done with her practicum at Golisano. Then, she’ll fulfill her internship requirement at New York Hospital Queens during the summer. She’ll take the certification exam in October.
Jessica Biren, one of Hornick’s roommates, doesn’t doubt Hornick’s path toward becoming a child life specialist. Even though hospitals provoke anxiety, Biren imagines Hornick’s calming demeanor will help patients through the process.
‘She has such a loving nature to her. It’s what she’s meant to be doing,’ said Biren, a senior sociology major.
Hornick always puts others before herself, Biren said, and she has a passion for helping people.
This passion may go beyond a career in child life. Hornick eventually wants to earn a master’s degree, possibly in pediatric psychology or special education. She also wants to facilitate support groups for children with life-threatening illnesses.
‘I’m really passionate about what I love, so that makes me want to work very hard,’ Hornick said. ‘I really feel like this is what I’m supposed to do.’
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