Play Specialist. It’s a pretty cool job title isn’t it?

The Starship Play Specialists are an essential part of the child healthcare team at Starship and yes, their role is about fun and games, but also, so much more!  

Play Specialists use a variety of techniques to help children understand medical procedures, prepare them for hospital and help manage any fear or worries about their treatment.  

Paula Perham is one of the play specialists on Starship’s General Surgery Ward, working with children and their families either at the child’s bedside or in one of Starship’s playrooms.  

She helps prepare children for a variety of surgical procedures, including helping patients who need an intravenous injection (IV).  Depending on the age of the child, she might 

  • Use cold spray, numbing cream (EMLA) or a small “buzzy bee” machine which creates vibrations that confuse the nerve endings, so the children don’t feel the pain in the same way

  • Break the surgical procedure down into steps and work through these with the child to help make the process more manageable. This can involve the child creating a doll of themselves and working through the steps to put an IV into the doll      

  • Discuss coping mechanisms such as using breathing techniques and visualisation  


A play-based approach to hospital care helps reduce anxiety and allows children to have more personal involvement in their care. Play specialist support has also led to a reduction in children needing general anaesthetics during procedures like MRIs.  

Thanks to the generosity of Starship Foundation supporters, play specialist roles have been funded in Radiology and the Children’s Emergency Department (CED) and more “buzzy bee” machines have been purchased.