What do you do, Shirin?

Shirin is a senior health play specialist at Evelina London 
Colourful question marks drawn by a child

""June 2023

What is your current role?

I am a band 5 senior health play specialist at Evelina London and work within the surgical Savannah ward. I provide therapeutic interventions for children, young people and their families. This might involve preparing children and young people for various procedures, such as theatre admissions, tests, and medication. These can be quite scary when you’re only little and out of your normal environment. Children can understandably be quite anxious, so we use lot of techniques to provide distraction, such as using an iPad, books, singing, toys and other sensory resources. We also help children (and their families) to relax using music and deep breathing techniques, and we have conversations with patients to help them understand what is happening (or about to happen).

For instance, I provide support to children and young people who have a fear of needles. We work with their worries and concerns to help reduce their anxieties, and support them as they have blood tests taken. It’s also important to normalise the hospital environment as much as possible for children through play, so we have an active role in that. This also extends to helping siblings/families deal with bereavement. It’s critical that young people are able to work through fears and emotions surrounding death, so we provide activities and support them to do this.

I work with nurses, doctors and consultants on a day-to-day basis, but can also work with other specialists, such as surgeons, anaesthetists, radiologists, child mental health service consultants, and ear, nose and throat doctors, when they are called to the department. It’s fascinating to work with a range of different experts, who like me, are all seeking to improve the lives of young people and do what is in their best interests. 

How long have you worked for Evelina London?

I have worked for Evelina London for five wonderful years now, including through the pandemic, which was both incredibly challenging and immeasurably rewarding. 

Could you describe your career journey?

I always knew I wanted to work with children, so I began by completing my childcare level 1 and 2 courses, and volunteered in mainstream schools for extra experience. During my childcare level 3 course, I came across a small book with a flow chart in it, describing what qualifications you need to become a teaching assistant, play worker, and play specialist. I was intrigued to find out what the role of a play specialist entailed, as I had never heard of it, but it sounded fun. At the time, I was volunteering on placement in a hearing-impaired school for my course, and I found it really rewarding helping children that were faced with additional challenges within education.

I began to research the role of a play specialist and contacted a local hospital, The Royal London Hospital, to ask to volunteer there as a play worker. To my delight, they agreed, and I had a play specialist as my supervisor. Volunteering there was incredible – I loved going in on shift, and I immediately knew that being a play specialist was what I wanted to do. The job was varied, with different patients every day in a busy daycare ward. This meant I got to work with and support so many lovely children and families, all with unique needs. I continued to volunteer there until the completion of my level 3 course. After I had finished my studies, I was thrilled to be offered a role as a play worker at the hospital, and worked within countless departments to gain experience of children diagnosed with a range of conditions. I then decided to apply for the FdA Healthcare Play Specialism course and became a play specialist student. After qualifying in 2019, I moved to Evelina London Children’s Hospital, and have never looked back!

I worked on Snow Leopard  ward for 17 months, with long term tracheostomy patients (amongst others), devising play programmes to assess and monitor their regression and help them achieve their developmental milestones.

I then moved to the emergency department in 2020. The day-to-day dynamics are very fast paced – patients are in and out. This means you have to be on the ball, quickly building rapport with patients to understand their primary needs and concerns, so you can help them in the best way possible.

What is your favourite part of your job and working for Evelina London?

My favourite part of the job is seeing patients that were almost incapacitated by their fear of a procedure (such as needles), become calm and happy through the support the play team is able to offer. We aim to deliver the best possible care to patients and families, to support their emotional wellbeing. Honestly, helping them to smile when they are at their lowest is like no other feeling in the world. 

People think that hospitals are there to attend to physical, medical issues; they forget that patients' emotional wellbeing is just as important – especially children. What could be a traumatic procedure can be turned into something fun and playful, which they won’t go onto carry with them as a negative memory.

In making patients happy, I feel like I have the best job of all!

What do you find exciting about your work?

What I love about the emergency department is that every day is different. You don’t know what you’re going to walk into when you are called to a cubicle. I support children with accidental burns, broken limbs, illnesses, and so on. The fast-paced environment and the unique needs of each patient means I have to think on my feet how best to support the families under my care in any given moment.

What is your proudest moment?

I have so many moments I am proud of, including my career progression from a foundation degree to a full degree, in a subject I am passionate about. I am very proud of achieving a first-class degree.

I am also immensely proud of the work that I do here at Evelina London. Recently, I helped a refugee family.I felt so sad to hear about the challenges they encountered along their perilous journey to reach England, and the health issues the children faced as a result. I played with the siblings of the patient, and was so proud to be able to help make them smile and feel welcome, despite our language barrier. I was also able to offer the parents support, such as websites that offer to help refugee families. The family were so grateful for my assistance and acceptance, it made me feel proud to be working in a place that could facilitate such support.

How do you relax?

Oh that one is easy – watching films, eating junk food and lazing about on the sofa. This is my happy place and how I switch off from work.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love travelling and going on holidays. I love shopping too.

Do you have any advice for young people considering a career similar to your own?

If you are passionate about bettering the lives of children and young people and feel you can make a difference, enrol onto the play specialist foundation degree course without delay. It also makes sense to gain skills and experience by volunteering or shadowing a play specialist to make sure this is the role you really want to pursue. Whilst it’s incredibly rewarding, it can also be quite challenging at times.

Tell us one fun fact about your job…

I love to do things to facilitate others having fun. For instance, when working on Snow Leopard with long-term ventilation patients, the clinical nurse specialist planned a party. I participated by ordering toys and resources to cater for each child, as well as resources for patients with additional needs. All staff members dressed up  – I dressed up as Princess Jasmine. There was food, games, and music – it was a lot of fun!

What does being part of Evelina London mean?

It means working for a well-known hospital with excellent services and specialisms that provides outstanding care for its patients. It also means being part of a diverse professional team in healthcare with the expertise to help many patients and families with various illnesses or injuries.

But above all, it means coming into work every day with a spring in my step. I have never felt more part of a team as I do at Evelina London. We are like one big family, all striving towards one goal, as equals.

Getting paid to come here, as part of this team, to try and make children happy – well, it’s an incredibly humbling experience, and I feel very privileged to work here. 

Colourful question marks drawn by a child

Thank you to the children and young people who have so brilliantly illustrated our blog pages.