Meet Gemma Melisi, Play Specialist – The Royal London Hospital

My name is Gemma Melisi and I live in Walthamstow. I am a Healthcare Play Specialist at the Royal London Hospital in the children’s eye cancer unit. We are a Monday to Friday service working from 9am – 5pm, although some hospitals offer weekend service.

A hospital play specialist uses their understanding of child development and therapeutic play activities to help children cope with any pain, anxiety or fear they might experience during their time in hospital. Play is an important part of any child’s development and can be a good way to help children and young people understand their illness and treatments.

Each day varies depending on what patients are in, we can have short term and long term patients. With all patients and the families you tend to build a relationship working together with them to set goals to make sure they are meeting their developmental needs. I use many different activities such as arts and crafts, toys, puzzles to make sure they are comfortable and also use these activities to help the children understand what is happening to them. We also hold group play sessions to help ensure we get to see as many children as we can, and this also allows opportunities for the children to socialise with each other.

I got into this role as when I young I was in and out of hospital myself and heard of this role that way. When I left school I did a level 3 qualification in nursery nursing at college. I went on to work in a nursery for a few years and then on a neonatal unit at a local hospital. You need to be 21 to do the play specialism course after getting some childcare experience I decided to enrol on to the two 2 year foundation degree in Health Care Play Specialism.

As I was already working shifts at a hospital I was able to study and do the work placement during the day. You need to do 200 hours of placement in one year, which works out about 1 day a week. Sometimes I would do my placement and then have to go and do a night shift. Some days were long but I was committed and it was the best decision I ever made.

It’s hard to see children struggling, sometimes you can prepare a child as much as you can but they can still get scared and distressed. You work with the families and it’s difficult if a child has a relapse, but my job is to help and support them with the journey and it’s a wonderful feeling when out of the tears you get a smile.

In the future I hope I’m still doing my job. I love what I do. I plan to stay living in East London, as its local to where I work.

Top Tip
Get some work experience working with children of all ages. You need to be motivated and actively look out for the different opportunities available on the NHS jobs website.