JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Children in the hospital are often spoken of, but people don’t often talk about the people who help the kids through what can be a scary experience.

These child life specialists help kids “play with a purpose.”

Originally a nursing student, Ashlee Simerly felt moved to go a different direction.

“I went into college as a nursing major,” she said. “And after a few classes, I just realized that wasn’t for me, that I really wanted to serve kids of our region. So one of my friends just told me about child life, and I started exploring it and interviewing some other child specialists, and I really just realized it was the job for me to be able to help children and families in super stressful situations.”

The motto of the child life specialists at Niswonger Children’s Hospital is “Play With a Purpose.” And, it’s a big responsibility.

“Our main goal is to help kids cope in the hospital, and we do all that through play. So our little fun tagline is Play With A Purpose,” she said. “Everything we do is very play because that’s how kids learn best. And so we’ll teach them about their procedures through play and about their diagnosis. They play and then just be like developmentally appropriate play to help them continue developing while they’re in the hospital.”

Simerly says seeing her patients conquering a scary procedure is extremely rewarding.

“My job, I think the most rewarding thing is when I’ve had the chance to teach a patient about their procedure and then they go to that procedure. And after they’re just like, I did it. I was brave and actually so special seeing them, like, overcome something like that,” she said.

And during that procedure, the focus shifts to the family.

“I think one of our biggest challenges is just having to sit with our families during those really hard times,” she says. “We see some hard things here. But on the flip side, it’s rewarding to be able to help families and patients cope through those situations that are otherwise difficult.”

Simerly adds that support from the community is paramount to their success.

“Our community has been so wonderful in providing donations here at Niswonger. And I think just those things really help us do our job,” she said.

A job that takes a lot of heart, to Play With A Purpose.

More Child Life Specialists are needed. For more information, click here.