Mark Compas brings a distinctive mix of technical skills, a child psychology background and passion for both fields to his work as a per diem certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). “It’s like I dreamed this job up and then it found me,” he said.
Mark divides his time between North Shore University Hospital (NSUH), including its Dorothy and Alvin Schwartz Ambulatory Surgery Center, and Cohen Children’s Medical Center (CCMC). As a CCLS, he educates patients about procedures and helps them to have a positive experience in the hospital setting. “In simple terms,” he says about his Child Life team, “we are basically teachers, coaches, and companions that help patients and families have an easier time at the hospital.”
How Mark came to be at Northwell is a roundabout story, where every twist has led him to exactly where he is thrilled to be. “Every day, I can’t believe how lucky I am,” he said.
He began his studies in electrical engineering and computer science, always honing his skills with hobbies like building computers and websites. He learned graphic design and video editing to promote a band he performed in. While attending college, Mark also taught swimming part-time, and that changed everything. “As much as I like building things, I realized that I love working with kids. It never felt like work and helping kids overcome obstacles and succeed was so meaningful to me.”
Mark finished his Bachelor of Science degree at Stonybrook University, pivoting from electrical engineering to psychology with a focus on child studies. He learned of the Child Life field, began volunteering at a hospital and attained his certification. Now he spends his days managing the technical needs of the Child Life and Creative Arts team. Among his projects is MeTV, a closed-circuit TV channel hosted by Child Life team members that children who are patients at CCMC can watch and play along, live. Games are aimed to teach children about hospitals and procedures, and Pictionary, which is purely for fun. Children can also co-host on MeTV. “It empowers them to be able to speak to other children and educate them about being in the hospital,” Mark said.
One of Mark’s favorite activities during his two years at Northwell has been the WeCraft event. Combining forces with Microsoft and the Extra Life Gaming Guild of NYC, Mark’s team hosted the WeCraft event that allowed all hospital-wide patients to play MineCraft together. He also loves to share his knowledge with children who are interested in technology. “Kids might be stuck in a room all day and I can drop in and show them a cool project I’m working on.”
Mark is always dreaming up new projects for the children at NSUH and CCMC and says that his colleagues’ dedication fuels his inspiration. Currently he is working on a virtual reality headset called Smileyscope for children to use during procedures like IV starts or injections. Smileyscope was developed in Australia and brought to CCMC for trial and research. CCMC is one of the first facilities in the United States to implement it and training is underway.
Mark networks with Child Life Specialists in similar roles as his, collaborates with children’s charities and keeps his ear to the ground for new opportunities. After his telephone interview, he followed up with a long email outlining novel ways that technology can help children cope with their hospital experiences. He hopes to create apps and video games to educate children and connect them socially, so that they can support each other. He sees great potential in using video games therapeutically and has been in touch with clinical psychologists who use games in their practices. Mark plans to study game design, play therapy and, eventually, to obtain a PhD in neuropsychology to further these goals. He has bigger ideas for MeTV and WeCraft, as well, and would also like to host regular classes and events for patients who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
Using technology to help children is a job that fits Mark Compas as if it were designed for him.
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