C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Child Life Director Shaping Child Health Care

by Lauren Dudley, University of Michigan Journalism Student

Dan Fischer still remembers his 21-year-old self, sitting in his psychology professor’s office, his senior year at the University of Michigan.  The four years of undergraduate school had gone by fast and Fischer had no idea what he wanted to do with the degree in Psychology he was graduating with.  “Why not social work?” his professor asked.  The field of social work had never crossed Fischer’s radar, but the more he listened to his professor talk about it, the more he was convinced it was something he wanted to do.  Fischer knew that a Masters in Social Work wouldn’t make him rich by any means, but he believed the payoffs, like seeing an individual who was at a low in life succeed after he helped them, would make up for any money compensation.

Today, as Family and Child Life Director at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Fischer is in charge of 34 staff members whose responsibilities range from helping children cope through their illnesses to providing emotional support to their families.  Just ten years ago this kind of support did not exist.  As the new Von Voigtlander Women’s and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital was being built in 2011, Fischer and Child Life staff worked hard for playrooms to be built on every floor and created the “Get Well Network,” a digital program with movies, television shows, games, internet and more, to be installed on every room’s television. “We try to make the experience as fun, as normal, and as comfortable as we possibly can for patients and families,” said Fischer about the Child Life staff.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffif-uSraUY ) Fischer now makes $116,591.70 annually, more than doubling the salary he was on before this job (http://www.umsalary.info/deptsearch.php?Dept=CW+Child+%26+Family+Life&Year=0&Campus=1).

Nicole Phelps, a current Child and Family Life employee at Mott Children’s Hospital, had nothing but positive things to say about Fischer.  “Dan has let me grow as a person in the Child Life Department and has given me space to be my own person and let me find my niche within the hospital.”  This feedback wasn’t surprising after Fischer described his favorite part of his job as, “helping people reach for what they want to reach in life and creating opportunity for them to get there.”

Of all the jobs Fischer has had, his hardest case was in his first job out of graduate school.  He worked for a family service agency in Flint, Michigan and described himself as a “Super Nanny” doing in home behavior management treatment.  The children were extremely undisciplined and the parents rarely followed through with the discipline methods Fischer tried to enforce.  After doing this for a year, Fischer realized how the poorer, inner-city areas as well as many rural towns were in dire need for trained psychologists so it became a goal of his to figure out a way to solve this.  Fischer joined the first team of social workers to provide OCD therapy to patients using telemedicine, a program similar to Skype that streams through a patient’s television so they can have professional therapy sessions without leaving their home.

Although Fischer does put in a lot of hard work and time into his career, his wife, Pam, and two daughters, Abby and Kate, always come first.  Fischer and his wife met while working as caseworkers for the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court and started their family shortly after marriage.    According to Fischer, his daughters were the hardest to raise during their teenage years especially when going through breakups.  “I was never a therapist to them.  I always tried to just be a dad,” said Fischer.  That being said, his experience working with a wide range of patients and their problems did help him in knowing how to positively shape his daughters into bright, young women while at the same time giving them space to grow and find their true passions in life on their own.

In his future, Fischer hopes to get back into research, specifically in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, as well as continue to teach.  “Now that I am at the top of the career hill I’ve been climbing since college I can decide to pick another hill to climb up if I chose to, but I think for now I’m just going to stay up here and look out at the vista for awhile.”

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