Kristin Wikel: Bringing Education to Young Patients

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When a child is hospitalized or dealing with a long-term illness, the priority is health and healing. But families can overlook or be overwhelmed with the task of helping the child keep up with school. Kristin Wikel, however, understood how beneficial continuity in education was for young patients on the road to recovery, and she knew it would be a relief to parents as well.

After a successful eight-year career as a teacher, Kristin pursued a master’s degree and completed a practicum at the Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital. She instantly fell in love with her surroundings and the staff’s passion for care. Serendipitously, a position became available shortly after her practicum concluded, and Kristin was on her journey. In 2011, she was named supervisor of the Riley at IU Health School Program, which actually began in 1924 and has served hundreds of thousands of students throughout its existence.

And while Kristin appreciated that history, she knew there was potential for even greater outcomes.

Kristin helped expand the hospital’s relationship with Indianapolis Public Schools to include siblings of patients, as well as school-aged parents of infants receiving care.  

She grew the school program’s “Bear in the Chair” initiative in which a teddy bear holds the classroom seat of the missing student who is a Riley at IU Health patient. The bear fosters a connection to the patient, which Kristin built on by introducing several iPads into the program for patients and their teachers to use for social interaction for younger patients and important, one-on-one consultation for older students.

Always looking to better patients’ lives, Kristin reorganized the entire school program at Riley at IU Health, fully integrating educators into clinical teams (oncology, neurology, cardiovascular, etc.) instead of separation by grade level. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, creating a much more comprehensive approach to patients’ care.

She’s now focused on mentoring future teachers. Kristin started Riley at IU Health’s first student-teaching program – one of the few hospitals in the country to have such a program – as part of a close partnership with Butler University. The hospital brings on a student teacher from Butler every semester.  

“Kristin is a true role model here at Riley at IU Health,” said Russ Williams, Chief Operating Officer, Riley at IU Health. “Her tireless work and advocacy are an inspiration to her colleagues and to her patients and families. The passion that she has and shows for her patients is unparalleled. Kristin is always ready and willing to advocate by any means necessary to ensure that her patients get the care and education they need and deserve, be that in the hospital or after they have gone home.”  As one of the parents who have benefited from Kristin’s advocacy Delores Bandy would attest, “It has definitely been a privilege knowing someone – a stranger at that – that cares more than just for a paycheck, but for another human outside her circle.”

Kristin was recently named as a finalist for the Indianapolis Business Journal’s 2016 Health Care Heroes Awards in the Non-Physician category.  The awards recognize individuals and organizations in central Indiana that show excellence in health care each year.  Winners will be announced on Friday, March 4.

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