Riley kids work their magic on those who care for them




“Why Wall” gives team members a chance to share what makes working at Riley special: “It’s the smiles you see on the kids … it brings a different level of meaning to your work.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

After a pandemic that put enormous strain on healthcare workers, you might wonder what keeps Riley Children’s Health team members coming back day after day.

Sure, the paycheck is important, but it’s no surprise that for most, it’s all about the kids.

In a bid to help Riley team members reconnect with their purpose, a “Why Wall” sprouted near the entrance to the Maternity Tower Downtown and also at Riley at IU Health North Hospital.

The initiative, organized by Riley’s team member engagement group, invites people to grab a piece of paper and write down their “why” before posting it on the wall.

The results are sweet, honest and meaningful for those who take the time to read the responses.

“To help give kids with cancer the future they deserve.”

“I love tiny humans!”

“To give back to a hospital that gave to my family.”

“I love the difference I am able to make for the families I help.”

Jasmine Bundrant, a medical assistant, returned to Riley after working in the adult healthcare world for a few years. As she contemplated her “why,” she said she enjoys the hands-on experience she gets at Riley and that the nurses she works with are very open to teaching her.

But mostly, she said, “I love working with the kids and our amazing families.”

Austin Wooten, operations manager for pharmacy, has been full time at Riley just over a month, but he’s been with IU Health for five years. He started as a pharmacy tech during school and recently completed a two-year residency.

His “why” is hard to fit into a couple sentences on a small piece of paper, he said, but he remembers as a resident when he helped with Afghan patients who were brought to Riley from Camp Atterbury after the mass exodus from Afghanistan two years ago.

Even though he couldn’t speak their language, he could communicate with the kids by making balloons out of hospital gloves to help put them at ease.

“It’s the smiles you see on the kids, seeing them in the wagons … it brings a different level of meaning to your work,” Wooten said. “There’s a lot more positivity working with kids.”

Nurse manager Amy Birchfield said she’s lucky that she always knew she wanted to be a nurse.

“Even through these tough times, I still want to be a nurse. I still want to take care of patients. It looks different for me than it did 20-plus years ago, but I want patients to feel safe and cared for here,” she said.

“I’m really fortunate to lead a team of nurse experts who are smart, kind, innovative and funny. If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is.”

Another nurse said it like this: “Walking into Riley feels like walking into home. You get to meet the most wonderful people here and help them through some of their toughest times.”

Earlier this week, nurse Traci Dayhoff, who helped organize the wall project with Tiffany Smith, noticed a parent reading some of the responses that had been posted on the wall.

“As I got closer, I noticed she was crying. I approached her and asked if everything was OK, and she said that she loved reading all of the reasons why people work at Riley and she just feels the love coming right out of the display.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,