When Carli Tourdot was in high school, a dear friend of hers was diagnosed with bone cancer. When Tourdot would visit the hospital, she noticed there was often someone else visiting her friend as well. "I remember a child life specialist working with her," Tourdot says.
The experience would have a profound effect on Tourdot. She'd grown up in a medical family — her father was a doctor and her mother, a nurse — and had long had an interest in medicine. She also loved kids. When the time came to choose a career path, she thought again of her friend and the caring person who was often by her bedside. "I realized child life was the perfect combination of my interests," she says.
After college, Tourdot headed to Johns Hopkins Hospital for an internship. Then she returned to Rochester to take a job as a child life specialist in the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic. She moved in with her parents, frequently chatting with them about her work — including what she was coming to see as an opportunity to serve young patients coming to Mayo for surgery.
Tourdot's father, Stephen Kramer, M.D., a pediatric urologist, was coming to the same conclusion. He'd been visiting many of the top urology programs in the country, tasked with bringing back insights to improve care at Mayo. "While there were many similarities among the programs, I noted that Mayo Clinic was one of the few institutions that did not have a child life specialist in surgery," Dr. Kramer says. At the hospitals he visited, families and physicians alike told Dr. Kramer that "interaction with a child life specialist was an extremely important aspect of the overall surgical experience. It became clear to me that we had an opportunity to correct a deficiency at Mayo."
Father and daughter began working together to make a case to bring a child life specialist to Mayo's outpatient areas. "Initially, there was a lot of interest, but not a lot of funding," Tourdot says. Thanks to the persistence of Jane Matsumoto, M.D., the Department of Radiology committed to funding half a position. "We were really struggling to come up with funding to make the position full-time," Tourdot says. "Then my dad came up with the idea of using his professorship funds."
At the time, Dr. Kramer was the David Utz Professor of Urology at Mayo Clinic, an honor that came with funds "traditionally used to support new or ongoing research programs in the department," Dr. Kramer tells us. But he believed the money could have a bigger impact elsewhere, and directed funding "to establish a Child Life position for pediatric patients undergoing outpatient surgery." Though the funds came from the Department of Urology, they benefitted all surgical patients. "My dad saw beyond what was good for patients in his department to what was good for all pediatric surgery patients," Tourdot says.
She applied for and was hired for the position, working alongside her father until his retirement. "The addition of a child life specialist completely revolutionized the surgical experience for both the child and parents," Dr. Kramer tells us. It was also a treasured experience for one particular child and her parent. "Working with my daughter was one of the highlights of my career," Dr. Kramer tells us. "I was always very proud of her and thrilled that we acted as a team to improve the overall experience of our patients."
Today, a dozen years later, Tourdot is one of three child life specialists working in outpatient surgery. In total, more than 20 child life specialists now care for patients throughout Mayo Clinic. "In the 12 years I've been here, I've seen child life become more of a standard of care than a perk," she says. "I love seeing that."
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