A Day in the Life: Jessica Riederer, child life specialist

August 13, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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Across the organization, thousands of employees spend their days carrying out exceptional patient care, education and research.

But each individual’s role is unique — and with that in mind, the A Day in the Life Headlines series introduces an employee and gives readers a snapshot of their daily life at Michigan Medicine.

Today, meet Jessica Riederer, a child life specialist who is tasked with helping children and families understand and cope with their medical experiences at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Some of Jessica’s interventions include developmental play, procedural preparation and support, diagnosis education, medical play, non-pharmacological pain management and bereavement support.

7 a.m.: Jessica arrives at her office in the pre-op area and takes a few minutes to check email and MiChart to see which patients she will be seeing that day.

7:15 a.m.: She heads out onto the floor to find that the pre-op is buzzing. She checks with her child life colleague and looks over the schedule to assess patient needs.

7:20 a.m.: Jessica meets with a seven-year-old boy who is at Mott with his mom. He has his blanket pulled up to his chin and says he’s scared to have his first surgery. Jessica spends a short time building rapport and gaining his trust through play, then prepares him for the procedure by using a photo book and language that is developmentally-appropriate to alleviate fears and reduce anxiety.

“We talk about the rooms he’ll see and the things he’ll experience,” Jessica said. “I’ll teach him about anesthesia, encourage him to choose a scent to flavor his anesthesia mask, and practice breathing with the mask on. I had also learned that he loves to color so I brought some projects for him to work on. By the end, he was smiling and feeling less scared.”

7:35 a.m.: Next up is a three-year-old girl and her parents. Jessica introduces medical play as a way to help prepare her for her surgery and desensitize common medical equipment that she’ll encounter.

“Sometimes, I’ll use a teddy bear as our ‘patient,’ and kids can use a stethoscope to listen to the bear’s heart or an anesthesia mask to mimic what will happen to them,” Jessica said.

Once the girl was ready for her procedure, Jessica gave her a portable DVD player with Daniel Tiger playing on it to serve as a distraction.

8-8:20 a.m.: An anesthesiologist asks Jessica to help a 14-year-old girl getting an IV placed. She meets with her and her parents and asks about past experiences. She hasn’t had an IV in a long time and is feeling nervous.

“I showed her the IV catheter, described as a tiny plastic straw, and the IV tubing and allowed to her to feel and manipulate them,” Jessica said. “As with most patients, she said she felt better knowing the needle comes out and just the straw stays.”

Jessica also discusses calm breathing techniques, squeezing a stress ball, using an alternate focus like a tablet or music, and guided imagery. Once the poke is over, the patient expresses feeling proud that she was able to get through it without “freaking out.”

8:20-8:30 a.m.: Jessica hears a young child, 14 months old, crying and heads to his room with some toys and bubbles. As he begins to focus on the bubbles, Jessica inches closer. He starts laughing and trying to get the bubbles, all while a tech is able to get his vitals checked.

“We work hand-in-hand with doctors, nurses, techs and others on the care team to allow them to do their jobs as well as they possibly can,” Jessica said. “Collaboration is key to our success in child life.”

8:30-10:30 a.m.: Jessica continues to see patients and families, and logs her interactions in MiChart.

10:30 a.m.: Jessica meets with a multidisciplinary work group that tackles patient education projects. The team has worked on a number of important tasks, including a video on how a child can prepare for surgery, a parent information sheet and a surgery story book. Today, they are discussing how they can enhance continuity between care teams on the hill and at the Brighton Center for Specialty Care.

11:30 a.m.: Lunch time — a chance to recharge for an afternoon filled with more patient interactions.

Noon: Jessica receives a page to help on the hematology/oncology unit. An 11-year-old girl with sickle cell disease was admitted for pain and is having a difficult time. After building trust, Jessica offers various non-pharmacological pain management techniques.

“For our patients, my work is all about making them comfortable,” Jessica said. “That could involve guided imagery, soothing music, breathing techniques, distraction through play, laying them down in more comfortable positions or even placing a washcloth over their eyes.”

In this case, Jessica utilizes many of those techniques and eventually, the patient’s breathing calms and her pain rating is lower than when the session began.

12:45 p.m.: Jessica is called back up to pre-op. A nurse reached out to say a nine-year-old patient with autism spectrum disorder was having trouble coping and was placed in an isolation room that was quiet.

“After speaking with his family, I learned that he was sensitive to loud sounds and overstimulation,” Jessica said. “We modified the environment by placing a sign on the door to limit the number of staff in the room at a time and dimmed the lights. I also provided noise-canceling headphones and a sensory box including various tactile and fidget items.”

Jessica continues to check on him through the rest of her shift.

1:15 – 2 p.m.: Jessica sees a few more kiddos, helps prep them for surgery or colors and spends time with the them in the playroom.

2:10 p.m.: It’s time for the daily management system (DMS) huddle, which Jessica attends each day. Then she works on more notes in MiChart.

2:25 p.m.: Jessica is asked to provide diagnosis education for a patient who was admitted for appendicitis. She uses diagrams, developmentally-appropriate language and provides IV education. Should surgery become necessary, Jessica will go back to her room and provide a more thorough explanation of what’s to come.

3:10 – 3:30 p.m.: Jessica charts the rest of her patient interactions and prepares for the next day.

“This job is unpredictable and exciting,” Jessica said. “We serve almost every area of the hospital, including outpatient clinics, radiology and 24/7 coverage through Children’s Emergency Services. And we get to work alongside creative and talented people, whether doctors and nurses or music therapists and art therapists. It’s a fun — and rewarding — job.”

Do you want to share your typical day in Headlines? Email headlines@med.umich.edu with a description of your role at Michigan Medicine!