Sharing Smiles

Wilmington Health’s initiative comforts its youngest patients

Smiles Story

Making young Wilmington Health patients comfortable makes their visit more enjoyable, helps ease the discomfort for parents and caregivers and helps medical professionals complete a more thorough exam.

DESIRAE HRYNKO, (pictured left) Wilmington Health marketing manager, and others there are always on the lookout for improving patients’ experience. They noticed the masks healthcare providers had to wear to protect each other and patients from COVID-19 were intimidating to the younger patients.

“So, we strategized the creation of photo buttons that could be pinned to clinical staff members’ scrubs and the patient could be welcomed still by the staff member’s bright smile,” she says.

Sometimes it’s the staff’s furbabies that get the conversations started.

“Our patients love Lucy, my dog,” Dr. PAMELA TAYLOR, (pictured right) pediatrics, says.4m6a4268 Res

Hrynko says the masks help patients relate to staff and makes mask wearing a bit less challenging.

Wilmington Health Clinical Manager JILL JAMES agrees.

“Wearing a mask all day is cumbersome and hot. It’s hard to keep employee morale up during these times and we’re all affected on a personal level as well because many of us have children out of school, childcare issues, you name it,” James says. “This was something positive and exciting. Sometimes if I’m in a meeting or having a frustrating day, I can look down at my button and cheer up. I also like that cheers up others. My personal button has my children making silly faces. That’s pretty classic. It makes me feel like they are not so far away while I’m at work and also reminds me that children are resilient and they’re going to get through this pandemic just like we all will, together.”

James says that while the main mission of the masks is to share smiles, there’s something larger at work, too. While some children cope fine with seeing everyone in a mask, others do not.


“It’s astounding how much you count on people‘s facial expressions to hear and communicate,” James says. “Most people read lips a lot more than they realized before everyone was in masks. We want to be compliant and do everything to keep our patients and their family safe. However, the mask presents many challenges, especially emotionally and on a connection level for children.”

The mask photo buttons serve as a conversation starter and also to help people feel more connected with their provider, she adds4m6a4271 Res

“We want them to have some sense of normal and see what our face looks like. Especially babies, they model their behavior based on your facial expressions. If they are not seeing facial expressions, they may struggle with their emotional development at such a young age.” James says.

The smiles will soon be shared more widely throughout the organization, Desirae says. While Sharing Smiles was piloted in Wilmington Health’s pediatric settings, they’ll soon be launching it in some of their family medicine and dermatology settings, where they also see pediatric patients.

And since adults are just grown-up kids, they may consider using the fun masks for those settings, as well.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to

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Categories: Health