Q&A with Clinical Professor Ruthie Davis

Professor Ruthie Davis serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Family Studies in the Department of Human Sciences and Design. As a faculty member in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences and a current child life specialist, Professor Davis provides perspective on the child life class at Baylor, the profession itself, and her passion for her career. 

February 16, 2023
Ruthie Davis
How did you initially become interested in the child life specialist profession? 

I initially heard about the profession in a local high school. At the time, our Student Council had done a fundraiser where we attended a children's hospital, and the employee giving the tour had a “child life specialist” name badge. I’d never heard of this job as she was telling us what she did. As a senior in high school, I thought, I really think I would be good at that. I love kids and I've always known I wanted a career with children, but I was always fascinated by the medical profession as well. However, I was never drawn to pursue a career as a nurse or doctor. 

After researching it further, I realized the profession uses a developmental approach to minimize stressors associated with medial experiences. Essentially, I can be the supportive person in the room to help a child cope with their situation. 

What does your work as a child life specialist look like? 

I currently work select weekends at children’s hospital in Dallas, and another child life specialist and I cover the entire hospital during our shift. We respond to consults that come in, whether they are electronic consults in the medical records or a request from a provider. This role keeps me on my toes because I never know what I'm walking into. Also, there's a lot of assessment that goes into my job and prioritization of needs since there are only two of us at the hospital. I have to think, Who needs us the most, and how can we be useful with our time? 

Generally, child life specialists work Monday through Friday and are assigned to a specific unit in the hospital. For example, if a child life specialist works on the cardiology unit, he or she would support the patients that have a heart condition. So normally, that’s what it looks like, but my role on the weekend looks a little different. 

What moments have impacted you most in your career? 

Just this past Saturday, I worked in the emergency department, and there was a little boy who had a knee injury, where he had tripped and fell on metal. He was about eight years old, and they needed to remove the metal piece from his knee. The only way to extract a foreign body like this is to numb the knee which can sting. For a while, I played with him and had a great conversation until the doctor walked in with the injection of Lidocaine. He freaked out and immediately started pulling his knee away. He wasn't cooperating, and the doctor couldn’t complete the procedure. We took a time out where I calmed him down by discussing strategies, but as we started to prepare again for the procedure, he looked at me and said, “I'm just a kid, and I can't do this!” I told him that he could do hard things even if he was just a kid! Because of our preparation, he was able to successfully cope with the injection.  

Those simple examples are often my favorite to share because they prove why hospitals need this service. The whole goal of the child life profession is to help ease medical experiences that can have lasting effects of trauma. Families will sometimes tell me that their child had a previous bad experience and now every time they go to the doctor, and their child is scared or tearful. Child life is a preventative approach, and we want to help children cope, be prepared, and know what to expect. When children are equipped and have developed coping skills, we know this can translate to any area of their life that could be unfamiliar or stressful. 

How did you make the transition from being a child life specialist to coming back to teach? 

For 20 years, Baylor has had a child life class, which I took during my undergrad at Baylor. The course had been taught by an adjunct professor who was also a child life specialist. At the time, I knew the adjunct because he worked in Dallas at the hospital with me, and he knew that I was a Baylor graduate. The exact semester that my husband and I decided to move to Waco from Dallas, the adjunct had moved away and told me I would be a good fit for the position. 

I taught the child life class for about two years, and then some other classes in the department needed to be filled. I started picking up another class here and there that were related to what I did. After a while, I realized I really enjoyed teaching. A year ago, I applied for the full time Clinical Professor job, and here I am! 

Tell us about what Baylor’s program offers for students interested in this profession. 

The child life class is an essential course for students interested in this profession– most people don't even know that Baylor has a child life class. It says a lot about Baylor that we produce very qualified child life specialists who have gone on to have successful careers. I am contacted by hospitals, managers, and supervisors because they know students from Baylor are good at what they do. We have a good reputation among hospitals in Texas. They know if a student is coming from our program they're qualified because students leave with a solid foundational knowledge that they can then apply to the hospital setting. 

I also teach a class about individual development and family relationships, and I take a lot of experiences from the hospital to teach through a “child life lens” to portray the importance of family structure and function, and the unique resources each family has which will influence their outcome. I’m using the experiences I've had in the hospital with patients and families, but I also use the theories about families that are taught in the textbook. They all merge together. 

What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in this field? 

Sometimes people get into a profession because they think it’s going to complete them in some way, so my best advice is to know yourself well. What I mean by that is to ask yourself, Am I doing this for me or am I helping people because I feel like this is what God has called me to do? You need the ability to step into the spaces where families are scared, hurting, or vulnerable without trying to fill a gap in your own life. If you’re not pursuing this profession for the right reason, it can be a scary place, because although there are great stories, there are also children who don't recover. 

Also, when going to work, child life specialists need to exercise professional boundaries, too. I learned very early how to leave work at work. If you allow work to infiltrate your personal life, then you are carrying burdens constantly, and it's not sustainable. For people pursuing this profession, I would say know who you are as a person and know your own capabilities to practice a healthy work-life balance.