Calming Young Patients With Warmth, Understanding

Shira Miller is Rush’s Gail L. Warden Employee of the Year

Shira Miller is a child life specialist with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IllinoisUndergoing a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging can be overwhelming and frightening for children and their parents. Shira Miller, child life specialist in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Rush University Medical Center, helps to change that.

She prepares children for radiology procedures, working to eliminate the fear and confusion they or their parents may have about these screenings.

Miller explains the process ahead of time and uses relaxation or diversionary techniques to help the child through the procedure. A typical example of her approach is the way she calmed a 6-year-old girl who was scheduled for an MRI under anesthesia, was terrified of the anesthesia mask and refused to change into her hospital pajamas.

“We played with the mask for about 30 minutes, doing things like blowing towers of blocks over with it and blowing bubbles through it, until she was finally comfortable enough to put it on her own face,” Miller recalls. “We then had her choose pajamas in the color she wanted. She went into the anesthesia induction room and breathed in the mask with no problem.”

Through her efforts and dedication, Miller has built a program that has had a positive effect on patient and parent satisfaction. For example, one parent praises Miller’s work with her young daughter, who underwent an ultrasound and a spinal MRI on two separate days. Miller worked with the child before both procedures, sitting alongside the girl on the floor of the radiology waiting area to gain the confidence of the child and her parents.

“She made the ultrasound seem almost like a fun experience,” the mother says. “When it was time for the MRI, she again explained the procedure in a very understanding way, using a doll, mask and picture. My daughter named one of her dolls after Shira.”

Technologists and radiologists have come to depend upon Miller’s ability to keep children calm while allowing them to produce quality images with minimal need for sedation during procedures. “Shira is an integral member of our radiology team. She collaborates with radiologists and technicians; is accountable for the child life activities within the department; and is respectful to all who are involved in the care process, while exemplifying excellence in the way she performs her job,” says Bernie Peculis, MS, administrative director, diagnostic radiology.

Ultrasound technician Gosia Bigos echoes Peculis’ sentiments. “She pays specific attention to each patient and gives us professional advice about how to deal with them depending on their history or problem,” Bigos says.

“Miller came to this position naturally, having always worked with children. She learned about the field of child life specialists from a friend in college whose sister was hospitalized,” she says.

For Miller, the most rewarding part of her job is helping empower children and families in their health care experiences. “The best feeling is teaching a child and family about how a procedure is going to go; helping them have a plan and coping strategies; and then having them go into the procedure without me, and hearing afterward how successful the child was,” Miller says.

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