Annika Johanson ’12: Gustavus Pscyhological Science Major Helping Children and Families Posted on October 21st, 2014 by

Annika Johanson

Annika Johanson works with a patient at Children’s Hospital.

When children suffer from medical conditions that require hospitalization, it can be a challenging and emotional time for the child and the child’s family. It’s the kind of environment Gustavus alumna Annika Johnason ’12 witnesses every day.

Johanson is a Child Life Specialist for both Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. She is charged with helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events.

Child life specialists promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. They provide emotional support for families, and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences. They provide information, support, and guidance to parents, siblings and other family members. They also play a vital role in educating caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress.

Johanson majored in psychology at Gustavus and then went on to complete a 600-hour child life internship at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. She enjoyed her experience in the psychology department, but also acknowledges how the liberal arts education that she received is benefitting her today.

“Gustavus gave me a well-rounded view of the world, and enhanced my ability to think outside of the box. While not all of my classes were directly related to the field I’m in, they still broadened my perspective,” Johanson said. “Most of my classes at Gustavus were smaller class sizes and discussion-based—something that sharpened my listening skills and helped me appreciate different viewpoints. I work with people of many different cultures and backgrounds, something that Gustavus has prepared me well for.”

Johanson has also come to appreciate the time she was able to spend learning under Gustavus’s dedicated faculty.

“I had many psychology classes with Barbara Simpson, who always made herself available to me when I had questions. She was always so approachable and made time for me when I needed it,” Johanson said. “Richard Martin helped me organize my Interim Career Exploration of Child Life during my senior year. The few classes I took with Betsy Byers (Art & Art History) stretched my skills and creativity, and always forced me to think outside the box. Mary Solberg’s “Ethics and Medicine” class is one I’ll never forget; I’ve carried so much of what I learned in that class into what I do now in my job.”

“I get to see firsthand the difference my line of work makes in the lives of these patients and families and I get to be a part of their medical journey, no matter how big or small it might be,” Johanson said. “When explaining something to a child, I love seeing the light bulb of understanding click. The incredible resiliency and courage so many patients and their families find in the midst of hardship is inspiring to me and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas


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