Dawn Daniels: Riley’s Trauma Maven Of Injury Prevention



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She fell in love with trauma because it was the patient population that could be kept out of the hospital. They were the only patients who had a sickness that was preventable.

The conversations are etched in her mind. As a bedside nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit, Dawn Daniels was part of too many of those conversations to ever forget.

“I’m so sorry. Your child has died.”

“I’m so sorry. Your child has these devastating injuries.”

Lives changed forever – many from injuries that could have been prevented.

“I would be so very happy,” says Daniels, a clinical nurse specialist. “If I could work myself out of a job.”

That’s because it’s Daniels’ job -- as program manager of injury prevention and trauma services at Riley – to push the importance of keeping children out of the hospital.

“I want kids to climb trees and play on playgrounds,” she says. “I want them to explore. That’s how they learn. But I also want them to be safe doing it.”

Daniels’ passion is revealed on her Facebook page.  

Her latest post about texting while driving reads: “Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.”

She posts on safe sleep practices, proper car seat installment, the hazards of furniture falling and tips on drowning prevention.

Daniels fell in love with trauma working in the PICU in Florida. She liked that the patients were multisystem and required a lot of different care from all areas of the hospital.

“Trauma seemed to be the patient population that we could prevent from coming in,” she says. “That was the patient population we could do the most to keep out of the ICU, to keep out of the hospital.”

That really hit home for Daniels while in Florida. The typical drowning season started mid-March and lasted through the middle of December.

She remembers several weeks where the hospital saw as many as 10 kids a week coming in with drowning injuries.

One weekend, seven teens and young adults were admitted with spinal cord injuries from diving.

“Drowning had such devastating injuries and a lot of them died,” she says. “So, it was really being able to prevent those injuries in the first place.”


Daniels didn’t start out wanting to be in the medical field. She was a history buff as a kid. And, she was serious about business. 

Born in Watseka, Ill., the oldest of four children, her dad was a truck driver. When Daniels was in junior high, her mom went back to school to be a nurse.

“I remember the late night hours at the table with all those books,” Daniels says.

But Daniels stuck with business. She went to Millikin University in Decatur Ill., as an accounting major. But somehow, that nursing career her mom had pursued crept in.

After one year at Millikin, Daniels transferred to Pensacola Christian College in Florida to get a nursing degree.  

There was never a question of working with kids. Daniels knew from the beginning she wanted to focus on OB or pediatrics. Her first job out of college in 1983 was in the pediatric intensive care unit at Riley.

After some graduate work in Georgia, Daniels took that job in Florida where she fell in love with trauma. But, she soon came back to work as a PICU nurse here -- until about 15 years ago when Riley was hiring an injury prevention coordinator.

This was Daniels’ passion – the perfect fit. In 2012, she took on the management role she has now.

For Daniels, her job is to oversee all of the pieces it takes to treat trauma and prevent injury -- delving into the immense data that is collected, all of the research and seeing where there might be gaps.

“And then I work to find how to fill in those holes,” she says. “I say, ‘We did a really good job here. But what could we have done to do even better?’”


Riley is the only Level I pediatric trauma center in the state. It sees the sickest of children.

But trauma is a team effort, Daniels says. Many people don’t realize that, thinking it is confined to the emergency department.

A trauma center is not one department, but the entire hospital. From pre-hospital to acute care to rehab to social work to dietary to chaplaincy, it takes everyone working together, she says.

“Sometimes, we think the sexy part of what we do is the ED or the operating room or the ICU,” Daniels says.

But the cool part is the work done to get kids out of the hospital, back out into their communities and preventing injuries from happening to begin with, Daniels says.

Her favorite part of her job is when she sees a patient that came in terribly hurt leaving the hospital healthy.

“The cheery updates are the best,” she says. “It helps to bring everything we do full circle.”

More With Daniels

Outside of Riley: She likes to garden, bake (cookies and breads are her specialties) -- and kneading dough is her biggest stress reliever. She also likes to spend time with her family and her 7-year-old Shetland sheepdog, Raven, who was a rescue dog.

Education: Daniels received a master of science degree in nursing with a dual focus on acute care pediatrics and community health nursing from Indiana University. She also received a PhD in health policy and nursing from IU. Her doctoral work, which included an adolescent health fellowship, focused on injury prevention and public policy. Her clinical expertise includes pediatric trauma, pediatric critical care, and pediatric neuro trauma as well as community health.  

Daniels’ advice for new trauma nurses: “Get a wide variety of experiences and try to see the whole perspective of what happens. It doesn’t start and stop at one place. The ED is a very important role for us, but it’s just a part of it.”

Read more about Riley’s Level I trauma center here.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.