Welcome to our second Digging Deep Partner Profile. As we continue to celebrate Child Life Month this March, we’d like to feature another of our many Child Life professionals who help children and teens with physical illnesses gain emotional strength during their health journey.

Celebrating the work of Julie R. Piazza, MS, CCLS, BS, Project Manager, Patient Family Centered Care / Child & Family Life C.S. Mott Children’s & Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI

JuliePiazzaJulie Piazza has a long history of supporting children in hospitals, starting as a “candy striper” at age 16, coincidentally at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where she has returned and works today.  Before settling on a career in Child Life, Julie considered being a pediatrician, when she realized what she truly wanted was to support the emotional health of children and families.  Pursuing Child Life, she completed her first internship at John Hopkins Children’s Center.  She has served on the Child Life Council and its predecessor organizations, aiding conference planning, certification, and other aspects to further the field of Child Life.

Julie shares that the most rewarding aspect of her career is recognizing when she has made a difference.  She has developed project initiatives supporting both Child & Family Life and the Patient Family Centered Care departments for the last thirteen years.  Her role as a Child Life Specialist has supported perioperative, inpatient and ambulatory areas. These programs are designed to increase communication, understanding, and education for families, coordinating the staff and services to bring support to families, making their surgery and hospital journeys less challenging. When a returning patient family who has had many hospital visits over time said to Julie, “I’ve really noticed the changes here,” that is when she knew she was truly making an impact.

“I feel it is each encounter that makes a difference to a family,” Julie explains, “Often you may not know how what you say or do will impact a family, so take every opportunity to make a difference,” she advises.  Other advice Julie has for us: “Meet people where they are.  Start by asking them what their perspective is and then go on from there.  Be open-minded and think outside of the box.  Consider possibilities, not constraints.”  “Providing choices and asking what will make the patient and the family most comfortable,” are two important aspects of the Poke and Procedure Program created by a multidisciplinary team at Mott, with Julie as a lead facilitator.

Julie has used Digging Deep as a springboard for conversation, not just with patients themselves, but the entire family.  She explains that the writing prompts in Digging Deep invite young patients and families to open up emotionally in the same way she and her department work with families.  “It is so important to use open-ended questions such as, ‘What are you wondering about…’ or ‘Tell me more about…’ or ‘What does a healing environment look like to you,’ which create space for someone to answer from their own perspective.”  Asking open questions, listening and not leading, providing activities from play to collage-making, and including the whole family are some of the strategies Julie has used to support the emotional health of her young patients and their families.

For Julie, an important aspect of her career has been to seek mentors.  She has always sought mentors not just within the Child Life field, but also outside the profession, such as in nursing or other specialties, professionals who can provide an important, and different, perspective.  Of course, Julie herself has served as a mentor to many.

We applaud the work of Julie Piazza and her departments at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.  Thank you for everything you do for young patients and their families!

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.
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