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Why I Do What I Do

I design hospitals (new construction and renovations) for a living because I know first hand what impact successfully designed spaces can have on healing and health, for patients, families, caregivers, and staff.


Becoming a Healthcare Architect and Medical Planner was a very organic process full of trial and error, and I learned many lessons along the way from my academic to my professional career. It is another way for me to feel like I am Paying it Forward and Passing it On.


 

Chapter 1: Syracuse University School of Architecture


When I was determined to start my freshman year of college on time, six weeks after my colectomy, Syracuse University School of Architecture could not have been more understanding and accommodating. I was offered the chance to customize my curriculum to avoid the more rigorous studio courses during my recoveries, and focus on the "easier stuff". I was granted extensions when my body just wasn't cooperating under the notorious pressures and sleepless nights. Through it all though, I did my best to conceal my condition, and be "normal". I have always rebelled against being the "sick kid", and prided myself on "not looking or acting sick". I like to think this is not for other's benefit, and that I wasn't ashamed, but I know I didn't like the attention, and I didn't want to feel like I was getting special treatment. As for not being the "sick kid", my cancer has always fed this desire in me to get the most out of life experiences, including academic learning and career growth.


This combination of a zest for life and life experiences, coupled with my reluctance to be open with my peers about what was really going on had an unintended negative affect on my academic relationships, and ultimately my early career years. I did look healthy, and I did look like I was getting special treatment. I was pegged a "slacker" that "didn't deserve to graduate" as one peer later disclosed. If they only knew the juggling act I was performing on a daily basis, or the pancreatitis pain I was suppressing, trying to meet a studio deadline before going to the ER for treatment, but I didn't tell them. So is their judgement of me really their fault? I don't blame them. But it should be a clear lesson to them as it was to me, that you cannot judge a book by its cover, and you never know what someone is really going through; lead with kindness, don't spread negative gossip.


Chapter 2: My First Job


If this wasn't an indicator that I should consider being more open about my health, my first job certainly was. I was always told that legally I do not have to disclose my health status, and I very much leaned into that at my first job. I am sure there are ways to remain private successfully, but I certainly didn't master it this young and naïve. You see, I loved the firm I was working for and the work that they did. The healthcare and life sciences projects were the perfect combination of math, art, and science that I relished in. Even better, (or so I thought at the time), they often hired Syracuse graduates, sometimes a few from the same graduating class each year, so I was pleased for familiar faces in the transition to the "real world". But, many of the peers who had made assumptions about me, and my work ethic were now my colleagues, in this first job and in the Boston architectural community, and I was completely unaware at the time. As I balanced appointments and procedures with my work schedule, planning these in mornings and afternoons to make the most out of my work days, to save vacation and sick days, many assumed I was simply slacking off, or worse "she must have gone out last night". I was young. I looked healthy, and a lot of the time I was healthy, enough. If you know the Architecture industry, you know the first few years are similar to studio culture, and the hours are long. My body did not always keep up, and the burnout was sometimes intense, and lasting, until I learned to better manage it. I was exhausted mentally and physically. I only disclosed the full scope of my health to HR and the most senior person on my project teams, and there was likely no easy way for them to support or defend me against these assumptions, and it became toxic. It was an unfortunate wake-up call into corporate life, but I knew what I had to do differently in my second job. I had to learn to be open, and maybe there would be a space where my health experiences would be an asset to my employer.


Chapter 3: Steffian Bradley Associates


You see, in my first job, I was staffed on a healthcare project in 2010, my first hospital building. I was still young in my career and thus in my tasks and responsibilities, but I was hooked. With the amount of time I spent inpatient, outpatient, and in basically every department as a patient, it almost felt like insider trading. I am comfortable around Doctors, Nurses, and hospital staff, and can easily extract important information for the project. I walk in the footsteps of the patients we are designing for. I can see the bottlenecks and challenges we are aiming to solve. At Steffian Bradley (SBA), all of my projects were in the healthcare sector. They were often small renovations, and I was involved from start to finish. This allowed me to combine my knowledge of the healthcare world with my career education in construction; I learned and learned and learned (I must have asked Eric Giuliano, LEED AP and Shelley Harris, AIA, LEED AP, CCM a million questions a day, I was a sponge - so thank you to you both for indulging me). I was open about my health, transparent not only at the senior level, but also with my peers, a complete departure from my first job, and it made all the difference; I was an asset, not a problem. When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2014, they could not have been more supportive, this just affirmed my commitment to both my transparency, and my work. Update: Unfortunately, Steffian Bradley Associates, Inc. closed its doors in 2019


Projects of Note:

(planning, design, documentation, construction administration, custom headwall resin panel artwork)

General Contractor: Bond

Engineer: BR+A


Chapter 4: NBBJ (firm website)


As a (basically at this point) lifetime patient at MGH and an architect, nothing impressed me more than the Lunder Building, which opened in 2011. If you've been inpatient in the White Building (the oldest inpatient building on campus) and then in Lunder, its like, GOALS. I was so impressed I could not stop talking about how successful the design was to my mom, and she knew someone who knew someone in the Planning & Construction office; they offered me a tour. I was in career-love, and I googled the firm, NBBJ. Damn, they're in New York City, I said to myself, and didn't think much of them for years after that...until a colleague from Steffian Bradley had moved on to NBBJ and reached out. They had opened a Boston office and she asked if I would consider a career move, and if I could send her my resume. As attached as I was at the time to SBA, NBBJ had been this dream job; it would offer a chance to expand my work experience from renovations and small jobs, to new builds and big jobs...to continue to pay it forward and make a difference on a much larger scale, so I sent her along my resume and work samples and waited to hear back.


Eight years later, here we are. My patient experience and the lessons I have learned both managing my health and managing relationships has lead me to be the empathetic, understanding, creative and approachable Medical Planner that I am today. My time on job sites "in the trenches" with the Contractors, often problem solving unforeseen conditions in existing buildings, has made me a jack of all trades, a problem solver (really a puzzle solver), a collaborator, and a team player. I take such pride in our work from the documents we draft to the final product because I know first hand the difference that they make. So, while it feels like I sort of fell into Healthcare architecture as my specialty, and it may seem to some as constrictive and rules/regulations-based, there is nowhere else I would rather be.


Projects of Note:

(planning, design, documentation, construction administration)

ENR New England Healthcare Project of the Year

General Contractor: Skanska

Engineer: BR+A


(planning, design, documentation: Support Services, Pharmacy, Nutrition & Food Services Departments)

General Contractor: Turner-Walsh joint venture

Engineer: BR+A

Consultants: St Onge, CTA, VHB, McPhail, McNamara Salvia, SGH


Note: General Contractors, Engineers, and Consultants listed are those I had direct relationships with and may not represent all involved on the project

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I started this blog because every time someone would ask me for advice, I would start from scratch and be afraid I missed something important. I would tailor it differently whether it was for a patient, a friend, or a family member. It just never occurred to me that I could put it all together in one place for anyone to access, re-access, share; an open and raw platform that I could build on and edit as an organic thing, learning as I go. Reflecting back on my journey from the start is not only helpful context, but also super cathartic to see how much I've grown and how much I have overcome. I hope you find this helpful in some way!!

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