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

IIDA Student Members Take on Real-World Design

Four IIDA Student Members at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) got a taste of what designing in the “real world” is like after taking part in a project that laid the foundation for a new healthcare facility at the university’s Medical Center (UNMC).

IIDA Student Members Nicki Ahlschwede, Ashley Wojtalewicz, Teresa Fibich, and Justine McCarty worked alongside fellow UNL interior design and architecture students to plan design concepts for UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI), a healthcare facility that focuses on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The students were involved in the entire planning process, from picking a site and research to conceptual designs. They met with MMI to learn its needs and wants, review plans and research, and gain knowledge about strategic layouts that would seamlessly flow for doctors, nurses, clients, clients’ families, and students. They were also told what key elements needed to be present in their designs.

Wojtalewicz worked to make the facility have a non-clinical feel: “With our material choices the concept doesn’t really feel clinical at all, but yet it still supports clinical activities, and that’s what we were going for as a team.” She added that her instructor, Stacy Spale, IIDA, played an integral role in the project with her experience in healthcare design.

The collaboration between MMI and UNL was made possible through the efforts of Sheila Elijah Barnwell, College of Architecture Instructor at UNL, who caught wind of UNMC’s plans to build a new facility for MMI. After contacting MMI and presenting her proposal to involve interior design and architecture students, MMI believed it was a win-win situation for the students and MMI. “Since we are part of the training institution of Nebraska, this was an ideal way to have UNMC collaborate with UNL on a project that would benefit the students as well as the families we serve,” said Dr. Wayne Stuberg, Professor and Interim Director of MMI.

By the end of the semester long project, 12 teams impressed MMI administrators and directors with their conceptual proposals. Their creative, professional ideas and research will be given to the contracted architectural firm.

“I think the students always care more when it’s a real client, and it has real potential,” said Spale. “In five or six years, some of the ideas our students presented might end up in the real new Munroe-Meyer Institute. That’s really exciting and inspiring. It gave them a sense of purpose and direction. It’s not just an academic exercise; it has the potential to really change things.”