Purdue human services alumna brings comfort to hospitalized children as child life specialist

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Henderson sits on a hospital bed with a patient as they engage with a toy

Mollie Henderson works with a patient at IU Health Arnett Hospital. (Photo provided, IU Health Arnett)

Whether in emergency care, pediatrics, outpatient surgery or the neonatal intensive care unit, Mollie Henderson, an alumna of Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences, is bringing comfort and compassion to children and families’ hospital experience.

Mollie Henderson headshot

Mollie Henderson(Photo provided)

As a child life specialist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana, Henderson’s responsibilities span providing support to children as they prepare for surgical procedures, creating distractions for hospitalized children through therapeutic play opportunities, and helping grieving families with resources and extra support if their child dies in the hospital.

“The idea of being that constant support for children and families in this kind of vulnerable and stressful environment is something I really fell in love with, so I decided to start on that career path my sophomore year at Purdue,” Henderson said.

When she started in the human services major as a first-year student, Henderson originally wanted to work with geriatric populations, after having served as the caretaker for her grandfather who struggled with dementia. However, Henderson said she quickly fell in love with child life services when her academic advisor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science pointed her toward a child life information session at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. From there, she never looked back, beginning volunteer hours at the hospital and later a practicum to observe a child life specialist’s day-to-day responsibilities.

“I always knew I wanted a ‘helping’ kind of profession, where I was helping others and being that support person,” Henderson said. “I think I really fell in love with the internship capstone experience that was included with human services. I loved how you would gain that really valuable experience while at Purdue, and I think that was something that was really appealing to me, how an internship would be included in my coursework and undergraduate degree.”

Henderson said one thing she really enjoys about being a child life specialist is that no two days or situations are exactly alike. She noted that all her human services coursework as well as the classes she took for her psychology minor helped offer a well-rounded framework for earning her child life specialist certification.

Henderson crouches next to a hospital bed to talk to a patient

Henderson’s responsibilities include creating distractions for hospitalized children through therapeutic play. (Photo provided, IU Health Arnett)

“I think each class was really the foundation to my career,” Henderson said. “For instance, child development courses, adolescent development courses and additional courses like medical terminology were very valuable and gave me that underlying tone of becoming a child life specialist. Because as a child life specialist, we are trained to relate developmental theory to our interventions and to how a child perceives hospitalization, so that framework really grounded me to be able to use these skills in a hospital setting.”

In her role at IU Health Arnett, Henderson has now come full circle, not only in helping the families and children she supports each day but also offering bedside play and support experiences to a student volunteer from Purdue during their weekly visits to the hospital. She also assists with the hospital’s child life practicum program, which is similar to the observation experience she completed as an undergraduate.

“It’s been really rewarding to help students thrive and grow in this profession during their time in their undergrad (program),” Henderson said.

Ultimately, Henderson credits Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Science with helping shape her path in the child life services field. She encourages students in the major to step out of their comfort zone and explore the endless possibilities available to them.

“Explore all of the different career paths that you can take with the human services major,” Henderson said. “I know that there’s a lot of different routes you can take, so just see what’s out there and make all of the connections you can to get your name out there.”