A Career in Healthcare Design: 4 IIDA Members Share Their Paths

As IIDA Student Members around the country get a taste of what it’s like to be a professional interior designer during the Student Mentoring Program this month, a few of our seasoned members and design professionals are sharing a little bit about how they launched their careers in healthcare design. From after-school jobs to mid-career shifts to a little bit of luck, their paths may be unique, but they’re all passionate about this fast-growing design specialty.

From Hospitality to Healthcare

“I began working primarily on hospitality projects, but during the design phase of a large mix-used project that our firm designed abroad, I found myself transitioning from the hospitality component of the project into the healthcare component of it. It was a natural and logical transition as both program types deal with environments focused on the hosting and caring of people.

I truly believe every healthcare project offers a unique opportunity to partner with an organization to collaboratively develop transformational solutions tailored to their vision and purpose. Well-designed, inspiring environments can help patients heal faster and enable clinicians to surpass their previous achievements through settings that foster focus and collaboration. As designers, we can validate our intuitions with evidence-based data and the latest findings in neuroscience to create high performing, people-focused spaces.”

-Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Principal, NBBJ, and IIDA Vice President

Luck and a Love of Technology

“Prior to my career in design and implementation of healthcare technology, I provided IT services in the corporate arena. Then my spouse was offered a position in Nashville. For me to find a position, I called a few companies and asked, ‘Where is the last place you would work?’ The number one response was a large university medical center in town. Not only was the medical center one of the largest employers in the area, it also included 314 acres of technology, just waiting for me! I socially engineered my way to become part of the staff. That was my first position in Health IT in 1999.

Today, my daily work ranges from the electronic medical records to the regulatory environment, from the clinical flow of patients to the design of the patient room. If it is technology and in a hospital, I touch it, design for it, budget, select, specify, procure, and manage installation.”

-Alan Dash, Senior Consultant, The Sextant Group

Medical Illustration to Interiors

“From an early age, I wanted to be a dentist or a physician, but I found out in anatomy that I couldn’t handle the smells or visuals of the medical profession. I still loved everything medical and someone in my anatomy class noticed me drawing and sketching. They asked if I had ever thought about medical illustrating. Well I did, and I loved it. My professors in medical illustrating suggested that I also look into industrial design. I found that it was highly competitive, rigorous, and research-based and had a high regard for beauty and functionality.”

-Amy Sickeler, RID, LEED AP, Interior Design Principal, Perkins+Will

High School Job Sets the Stage

“My after-school job in high school was with a multidiscipline design firm, where I was first exposed to healthcare design for interiors, signage, and medical devices. I eventually went to work for this firm and that’s where I started my journey in healthcare design.

Healthcare design is complex, challenging, and ever-changing. I love that it constantly shifts beneath my feet, pushing me to innovate. But what truly fuels my passion is the desire to create optimal patient experiences that help ease the journey for patients and their loved ones.”

-Suzen L. Heeley, Executive Director, Design+Construction, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 


On Monday, March 21, Sickeler, Beltran, and Heeley, will join IIDA EVP/CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, at PDC Summit. Durst will be leading the expert panel in a lively discussion about healthcare design during the program, “Strategy, Culture, and Healing: The Modern Healthcare Facility as a High Performance Workplace.” Learn more about the PDC Summit.

Image: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Brooklyn Infusion Project, Brooklyn, New York, USA, by ZGF Architects, 2012 IIDA Healthcare Interior Design Competition Best of Category Winner for Ambulatory Care Centers

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