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10-min read | By: Sophie Marcom

Some people are born to help others, whether that be as a volunteer, parent, or friend. Healthcare workers, especially those at the UNC Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Clinic, have made helping others the center of their lives as they pursue difficult, yet extremely rewarding careers. Today we want to highlight a very special career path that is not widely known. We hope to share the wonderful work that child life specialists do every day through the lives of Meghan Fox and Jordan Mahoney. Meghan has been the student advisor for CPALS for three and a half years, and she is a child life specialist at the clinic. Jordan is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and is an aspiring child life specialist currently pursuing a child life internship at Duke Hospitals. Their stories are beautifully intertwined and show us the bright present and future of pediatric healthcare.

CPALS, patients, and Meghan at Holiday Teen Group in December 2018.

As Meghan describes it, “Our job as child life specialists is to help normalize the hospital setting. We basically act as an interpreter in a way, because the medical language can be quite foreign to both patients and families. We’re here to help make things less scary. So, we try to find activities for the kids to do in an adaptive way and help them get through really hard things, like a new diagnosis of cancer, or having to go through a really scary procedure.”

Meghan was an inpatient child life specialist at UNC Hospitals for almost eight years. Three and a half years ago, she took the position as the psychosocial support program coordinator at the clinic. She is a part of the child life team but also has a separate role as she coordinates and facilitates many different programs such as retreats, sibling groups, and teen groups for patients. One of her responsibilities as the student advisor to CPALS is to orient, train, and match new CPALS with patients. She has loved watching relationships and friendships form between pals both in person and virtually.

Meghan went to UNC-Wilmington intending to be a special education teacher but found she was much more interested in therapy. She majored in recreational therapy and psychology, and worked with non-profits for a few years after college. When she was offered a fellowship at the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology clinic, she became child life certified and has been working there ever since.

Jordan and other CPALS executive officers at Fall Fest.

Jordan and Meghan’s career journeys are very similar, but Jordan’s journey has been very much shaped by Meghan and her involvement with CPALS. Jordan went into college like many of us, not knowing exactly what she wanted to do, but having a passion for healthcare and working with children. Laughing, she admitted that she was “that freshman that signed up for like forty different clubs,” but distinctly remembers the impression CPALS made on her from day one. After emailing Meghan “a million times,” Jordan became involved in any way she could. At the time, the hospital wasn’t allowing freshmen to be hospital volunteers, but Jordan soon began to understand how big of an impact she could make behind the scenes.

She joined the special projects committee and went to all of the events that she could – this includes decorating the clinic, making crafts, and raising awareness for the organization. As a sophomore, she was finally able to get a clinic shift and work with the kids firsthand. During her junior year, she was chosen to be the vice president of CPALS and finally got to meet her own 1:1 pal. She and her pal have many happy memories, both in-person and virtually. When Jordan was able to visit her pal in the clinic, she remembers her pal’s favorite thing to do when they played was to walk around the clinic, unlocking and relocking cabinets. Apparently,

Jordan waiting for her pal on Zoom.

“Even with all of the toys in the clinic, the only thing she ever really wanted to play with was the clinic keys.”

Now that they have their meetings over Zoom, Jordan and her pal love to make things out of Play-Doh and show them to one another. Recently, right before hanging up from a Facetime call, her pal yelled “I love you!” completely out of the blue, making this one of Jordan’s favorite memories with her pal.

As she spoke about her first impression of the clinic, Jordan remembered calling her mom after a shift and telling her,

“I love making the hospital more fun, I love playing with the kids, and I love getting to know the parents. I wish I could do this as a job.”

She didn’t know at the time this dream could become a reality. She soon discovered Meghan’s role as a child life specialist aligned perfectly with her future career interests. Around the same time, she decided on studying Human Development and Family Studies through the School of Education. One of Meghan’s coworkers came to a class she was in and spoke about their job, and it suddenly clicked for Jordan- she too could pursue this career. She talked about this moment smiling, and said,

“I just kind of knew from that point onward that this was exactly what I wanted to do; I wanted to be Meghan when I grew up.”

Jordan at her internship at Duke Hospitals.

Since then, Jordan has been focusing all of her efforts on achieving her future career goal as a child life specialist. After many hours of shadowing, volunteering, and studying, Jordan has recently been accepted into an extremely competitive 600-hour child life internship at Duke Children’s Hospital. After she completes this internship, she will be a child life specialist and will be eligible to sit for the certification exam in August! Her story is truly inspirational. She is extremely grateful she was able to find her passion at such a young age and pursue her dream. She said,

“It takes some students many, many years to get this far, and I am so, so fortunate that everything just kind of fell into place, and I was able to do it all while at UNC.”

There is so much to admire about both Meghan and Jordan, and CPALS brings their stories together in such a beautiful and natural way. The way they will impact others through their careers demonstrates the power of this organization and the difference all of us are making through our participation. CPALS truly changes the lives of everyone involved, whether it be our patients or our members.