After only a few years in existence, the College of Human Sciences Master’s of Science in Child Life program, through Human Development and Family Science (HDFS), has seen tremendous success where graduate students have experienced 100 percent internship placement for three consecutive application semesters.
Catherine Pelletier knows first-hand, the benefits of the Child Life Master’s program. Pelletier earned her bachelor’s degree in human development and family science while also minoring in philanthropy and nonprofit studies in May 2021. Shortly before completing her undergraduate degree, HDFS announced the Master’s of Science degree with an option in child life.
“I chose Auburn originally because they did have a child life program with a certified child life specialist,” Pelletier said. “Child life programs are hard to find and they’re pretty rare so being able to find one and being in a small college where I knew that my professors would know me was really helpful and I really appreciated that. I chose the master’s degree program here because I knew the instructors already and I knew that they had already fostered growth in me and those are the people that I wanted to learn from.”
The Child Life Master’s program requires four semesters of coursework, with the final semester being an internship and capstone project. Through this coursework and clinical studies, students are prepared to support the socio-emotional needs of children and families in a healthcare setting.
Before a graduate student can apply for an internship, they must complete a 100-hour clinical experience at East Alabama Medical Center. During the practicum, students are exposed to the hospital environment and observe other child life specialists before moving toward an internship that will be more hands-on.
Beginning in August, Pelletier will move to La Crosse, Wisconsin, where she will start her internship with the Gundersen Health System. The Gundersen Health system will allow Pelletier to work in pediatric palliative care in a Children’s Miracle Network hospital. Pelletier said a big reason she is getting this internship opportunity is because of how well Auburn prepares its students in the child life master’s program.
“Not only do we have 100 percent placement, but almost all of our students that have gone through the master’s program have gotten more than one offer and that’s really not common,” Pelletier said. “I got six offers and another student got nine offers and to compare, the average is one to two so I think that really speaks to how well Auburn and this program has trained us and prepared us.”
Director of Child Life Programs Amanda Butler is one of the instructors helping to prepare child life students through courses such as Child and Adolescent Development, Family Systems, Child Life Program Development and more.
Pelletier said Butler has been a huge inspiration for her in her years as both an undergraduate and graduate student.
“Personally, I think Mrs. Amanda is the child life specialist that everybody wants to be,” Pelletier said. “Originally, I came here because of the professors without knowing them but I stayed because I loved it and I love being able to learn from them. To have half the level of tenacity that she does to begin a program and implement it and teach so many students all the time is really influential to me.”
Pelletier, along with the other graduate students, will be prepared to sit for certification with the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) and upon graduation, students will have flexibility to work as child life specialists in hospitals, funeral homes, bereavement centers, schools and more.
There is a growing demand for child life specialists and Pelletier said just as a nurse works on a patient’s health, a child life specialist is there to ensure they stay strong mentally by using developmental tactics.
“I think there’s a misconception that child life is a step down from nursing when really it’s a completely different degree,” Pelletier said. “We’re both working with children but nurses are there to fix their health and we’re there to make sure they’re not regressing or having any issues with stress and we’re going to use developmental tactics to make sure a child is resilient through their hospitalization. You have to have a passion for that developmental side.”
For more information on the College of Human Sciences Master’s of Science in Child Life program including required courses, HDFS child life alumni spotlights and more, visit humsci.auburn.edu/hdfs/grad/masters_child_life.php or humsci.auburn.edu/childlife.