Monday, May 13, 2019

For many, Joanna is the face and voice of Holland Bloorview

By Louise Kinross

Joanna Miedzik is an institution at Holland Bloorview. She’s the bright smile that greets you at reception, and the kind voice when you call in with a problem. Joanna has an encyclopedic knowledge of the hospital, its staff and programs. She grew up here as a child receiving services in our spina bifida clinic. Today, parents regularly turn to her for advice on raising their child with a disability. Joanna has worked at Holland Bloorview for 20 years. As a receptionist, she’s our point person for families, staff and visitors who need information or help.

BLOOM: How did you get into this field?

Joanna Miedzik:
I’ve been here all my life. I came to Bloorview when I was nine. My family originally lived in Poland, and then we travelled in Syria for a couple of years and lived in Damascus. Then we moved to Buffalo, where I had a lot of my surgeries at the Shriner’s Hospital. Some friends of my parents told them about the medical treatment I could get here at Bloorview, so my family moved here.

My parents gave up living in their own country in order to give me the opportunity to live in Canada, where there are more opportunities for me to be who I am today.

Bloorview has always been home for me. By working here I felt I could give back to everyone what they gave to me. I’ve had help from almost every department here, and every single person that was with me growing up has had an unbelievable impact on me and who I’ve become.

I always wanted to work with children and be a helper. At one point I wanted to be a social worker, but that didn’t work out for me. There was no question when I was looking for work that this was the only place for me.

BLOOM: What is a typical day on reception like?

Joanna Miedzik:
Very unpredictable! I open up shop in the morning and get reception prepared for the day. We have daily tasks we need to complete. The mornings are pretty hectic. We often have lots of students come in, and they need help in getting themselves settled for their parking.

Then the calls start coming in. There’s a lot of action—people-wise and phone-wise. It’s a big juggling act most of the time.

There’s a lot of multi-tasking, and being a detective to put information together to assist people. We have a lot of enquiries about Holland Bloorview. I have to be on top of it, and figure out who is the best person to help with a particular question. I need to focus on the roles that everyone plays at Holland Bloorview, and how I can redirect people.

BLOOM: Being a former client must be a huge advantage.

Joanna Miedzik:
Yes. To come into this role without that background would be extremely overwhelming. I’ve spent half of my life here. I’m 42 and I started when I was nine. Certain pieces of knowledge come naturally to me, because it was part of my everyday growing up. Sometimes I don’t even realize what I know. When I don’t have an answer, I call around and ask questions of my colleagues to put together the information.

BLOOM: What are the joys of the job?

Joanna Miedzik:
To see everybody with a smile on their face in the morning. To see the children go by on their bicycles on their exercise routine. I love to have conversations with the parents. A lot of parents come to me to chat and vent, and have a human body to listen to them when they’re overwhelmed.

I feel that is very special. I’m able to be on their level and have a conversation that’s not artificial or scripted. I’m giving them my heart and my soul. When I see the pain and the tears I can actually say ‘I’ve been there and I’ve cried, too, and I’ve had my frustrations.’ And we share our stories. I always try to turn their negatives into a positive. I always tell them that that they’re in good hands, and everything that’s possible will be done for their child here.

It’s nice to know I can have true heart conversations with these families. I’ve almost fulfilled my dream of wanting to be a social worker—not on paper, but I get to sit on reception and be that helping hand in a different way.

BLOOM: What are the greatest challenges?

Joanna Miedzik:
I’m the first person that people see, and sometimes I get the brunt of their frustration. Negative energy can surround me, and I have to remember to ground myself and not let it overwhelm me.

BLOOM: I guess whenever anyone—staff, family or visitor—has a problem, they call you!

Joanna Miedzik:
There are so many people who are hurt and frazzled and angry and sad, and sometimes it gets dumped on me. I have to back up and say ‘this is not about me.’ I can’t take it personally.

BLOOM: What qualities does someone need in your role?

Joanna Miedzik:
Patience, empathy and a positive attitude. You have to be good at abstract thinking for problem solving. Sometimes it’s like being a private detective, where you put the puzzle pieces together.

BLOOM: I think you probably have a unique window into hospital life from where you sit.

Joanna Miedzik:
I definitely have a revolving door around me. Some people are waiting for a taxi, or a parent is waiting for their child to get out of therapy. They come to chat. You do hear about their pains and their thoughts and their frustrations and their fears.

You also have the opportunity to share some pretty amazing moments. Like when you build a rapport with a mom over six months. And one day she comes downstairs to your desk, squealing with excitement, to show you her phone and a video of her son taking his first steps. And you cry together and hug. ‘I get it,’ I tell her. ‘I remember when I took my first step. I get it, and I’m thrilled for you.’

Sometimes an inpatient mom comes because she’s upset that her son’s stay has been extended for another six weeks. I tell them that an extension is progression, that the physicians see potential for more improvement.

BLOOM: If you could change one thing about Holland Bloorview, what would it be?

Joanna Miedzik:
It may not be realistic, but my wish for Holland Bloorview is to treat our clients longer. When I finished up here and was thrown into the real world, it was absolutely horrifying. I didn’t receive the help I needed. I was out there and I was lost and we had no support and no follow-ups.

So it would be a dream for Holland Bloorview to take the children they’ve cared for all their life, and not give up on them at the age of 18. Extend the care into early adulthood to ensure clients are psychologically and physically safe, and know their routine, and know the doctors they have to see on a regular basis.

BLOOM: If you could change one thing about children’s rehab, what would it be?

Joanna Miedzik:
I think Holland Bloorview is doing a pretty amazing job as it is. When I was at Bloorview, we didn’t have many of the support groups for kids and siblings, and extra-curricular activities, that you have now. I think Holland Bloorview is heading in the right direction with those groups and sessions.

I’d love to see more help for the parents. And I’d like the opportunities to be for families with all diagnoses, not just for a particular disability. Every disability is valuable, and deserves the same kind of attention.


Joanna you are such a sweetheart,the way you treat any guide everyone at bloorview is amazing. During our 4 month stay with my son Omar at bloorview every morning I saw a beautiful smiling face at reception.
Hats off to you
Rehan Siddiqui

It is wonderful to work with you Jo - what a great interview, and thank you for always being a great detective at reception :)