Mattie Dunn Named Child Life Specialist of the Year

Dunn’s coworkers surprised her with artwork showing their appreciation and admiration after the announcement of the Child Life Specialist of the Year award.

Mom. Grandma. Breast Cancer Survivor. These are just a few titles you could use to describe Mattie Dunn. In 2020, Dunn added Child Life Specialist of the Year to the list.

Dunn, who was considered the babysitter on the block when she was growing up, knew it was her life calling to work with children. When Cincinnati Children’s opened its daycare center, she was relentless in her efforts to get her foot in the door. With her application sent and phone calls placed, she knew she needed to do more. Dunn went to the daycare center and personally handed her application to the director, stating her case as to why she deserved to work at Cincinnati Children’s. The director offered her an interview and then hired her. That was 30 years ago, and she’s still happy with her career choice.

An Individual Approach

When Dunn started in daycare, she developed a special rapport with a boy who was on the autism spectrum. The relationship sparked her curiosity to learn more about children with disabilities. Her interest would ultimately lead her to pursue a position working with this population in an inpatient setting.

Dunn went back to school and received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, completed a child life internship at Cincinnati Children’s and started her career as a Child life specialist at the College Hill Campus in 2013. She has worked on the same unit there ever since. 

Dunn motivates children and families as they navigate complicated and emotional journeys with psychiatric, behavioral and developmental disabilities. Because standard medical procedures like blood draws or MRIs can be especially frightening for a patient who is nonverbal or disabled, she acts as an advocate to ease anxiety so they can receive first-rate medical and emotional care. Whether it is singing a patient’s favorite song or playing with them at recreation time, Dunn gets to know each of her patient’s likes and dislikes and builds a trusting relationship with them.

Dunn recently worked with a patient who refused to have his blood drawn. For three days, Dunn tried to build trust with him until the third day, when she finally got to the bottom of what was causing so much anxiety. The patient was nervous that the phlebotomist would use something bigger than a butterfly needle. He also preferred not to be awakened too early for the blood draw and wanted to be given water before the procedure. With Dunn’s reassurance that his requests would be fulfilled, the blood draw went flawlessly.

“A lot of individuals think child life specialists have a magic wand,” said Dunn. “We don’t. We just take the time to get to know our patients, ask why they are scared, and create solutions to help everyone involved.”

Mattie Dunn (left) with Robin Brewer, who nominated her for the Child Life Specialist of the Year award

Well-Deserved Recognition

Each year Delta Air Lines, in partnership with Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, honors and recognizes the hard work and compassion of Child Life specialists and the critical services they provide for children and their families, along with bringing awareness to the need for child life funding at children’s hospitals with their Child Life Specialist of the Year.  

Robin Brewer, behavior specialist, read the description of the Child Life Specialist of the Year award and knew she had to nominate Dunn. From the beginning of her career, Dunn has risen above each obstacle and embraced every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

Dunn is still in disbelief that she won and says “My goal in working is not to receive an award. It is truly what I love and am put on this earth to do.”  

Dunn says the love she receives from her patients and the support she receives from her coworkers in Child Life and the Neurobehavioral Unit motivate her to go the extra mile in her work. 

“As I am approaching the age of retirement, the hardest part will be leaving this group of wonderful people who have been with me through my good days and bad.”

Learn more about Dunn’s Child Life Award at:

Dunn poses proudly with her award.

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