Case study

Health play specialist — Penelope Hart-Spencer

Penelope enjoys supporting children and their families in hospitals. Find out her top tips for a career as a health play specialist

How did you get your job?

I trained as a health play specialist as I wanted to work in the health sector and support children and young people in hospital. I applied for the post of health play specialist and paediatric support coordinator at an NHS hospital based on my interest in the value of therapeutic and specialised play. I'd previously managed a play project which helped to increase the confidence and self-esteem of children in primary schools.

What's a typical working day like?

We have different referrals for children who require radiotherapy treatment, CT and MRI scans and radioiodine treatment, and support children within follow-up clinics. Sometimes I'm required to facilitate a therapeutic and specialised play preparation programme for newly referred patients requiring radiotherapy and CT/MR scans, and other times I have to support a child for a blood test, helping them to find coping strategies to help them through the procedure.

The patients vary between the ages of 0 to18, so the support and planned activities are different day to day. I spend lots of time with nursing and allied health professional colleagues, planning and implementing support to benefit our patients.

What do you enjoy most about being a health specialist?

I enjoy supporting children and families throughout their healthcare journey, helping them to make sense of the different investigations and procedures that are required. It is a privilege to support families in healthcare.

What are the challenges?

There are sometimes not enough hours in the day to do everything that I'd like to!

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree and Masters are extremely relevant as they are health-based subjects. In particular, my MSc Contemporary Health (Cancer Care) taught me about the psycho-social impact of a cancer diagnosis and gave me further insight into how this affects teenage patients and their families.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role has developed at a fast pace. The NHS is very dynamic and there are lots of areas for development. I have become an integral member of the multidisciplinary team for paediatrics at my work place and am also the chair of The National Association of Health Play Specialists, which I am very proud of. I am very ambitious and I would like to be a health play specialist team leader/play service manager in the future.

Any tips for choosing a Masters?

I would recommend finding a subject that you are extremely passionate about. Read all of the course topics and content and ensure you have enough time to dedicate to your studies.

What's your advice to anyone wanting to become a health play specialist?

  • Check out the training requirements to become a health play specialist and make sure you have the prerequisites to apply.
  • Contact your local hospital and ask to meet with the health play specialist team to talk to them about their roles. This way you'll ensure it's definitely the right career path for you.
  • Make sure you're comfortable in a hospital environment. The career isn't suited to those who have procedural anxieties or phobias.

It takes a special kind of person to fulfil the role of health play specialist. You need to be extremely friendly, empathic, hardworking, have excellent communication skills, enjoy working with families and be able to remain calm in sometimes highly stressful situations.