On the evening of September 11, 2008, a Presidential Candidate Forum on National Service was hosted at Columbia University in New York City. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain were both asked to address the topic of national service. As each presented his views, I settled into my own thoughts about service in the form of volunteerism. I have been an avid volunteer my whole life. Early on, my volunteerism was focused on school and community. As my professional life grew more solid, without pause, my commitment to volunteerism focused on the larger issues within my profession, and I devoted years to my professional organization, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

Today, that focus is specifically honed on the issues I face as a healthcare designer through my volunteerism with The Center for Health Design. I was drawn to the work of The Center in the mid-80s because the cause connected me to a rather small community of like-minded colleagues, thinking not just about design, but rather all aspects of this complex industry. The reward—on a personal level—for the time invested broadens my perspective with each special project I take on; but at a global level, are positive changes occurring within the entire industry that link design to improved behaviors?

So how can we take our special talents and contribute to the greater good? There are active volunteers within The Center for Health Design who serve by offering their time on our Board of Directors, committees, and councils. There are others who share this base of knowledge within their professional organizations. There are some who will say they never get paid within the scope of their professional services yet do research, nonetheless, to measure outcomes as a volunteer.

Most of us have under-privileged medical clinics, homeless shelters, and small community hospitals within our communities that are under-funded and not likely to be able to embrace the latest evidence-based design research principles. There exist many opportunities to raise the bar within our local sphere as volunteers.

I would love for you to share your stories of how you are volunteering, using your expertise in healthcare design, especially if it is evidence-based. Stop by our booth at HEALTHCARE DESIGN.08 or reach out via The Center's blog. Tell us how you got started and what the net result has been.

At the conference, notice how many colleagues will stand before the audience, volunteering to share knowledge for the greater good. It is in efforts like these that we are contributing to the delivery of healthcare nationally, but look around at the conference and note that this effort is now reaching international audiences and impacting the delivery of care on distant shores.

The Center is growing and so will our need for a broader base of volunteers. Our strategic outreach has grown and so has our project load. We have a growing staff that is fielding many projects, and so too, their need for volunteers will grow. Besides The Center for Health Design, there are many other opportunities to improve the delivery of healthcare through design projects that are pushing healthcare administrators to make small changes focused on specific outcomes of improvement.

Volunteerism means offering time without pay but the payback you do receive is so much richer than money. The ability to think differently because you listened to colleagues debate a topic from a point of view you may not have considered, or the pride instilled in the ability to promote a concept or program that will move the industry forward, is payback enough.

By the time most of you read this, we will know who our next administration in Washington, D.C. will be. Both parties are calling for change; how can we, those involved in impacting change within the healthcare delivery system, participate and make America special? Share your story, spark inspiration in your fellow colleagues.

Best wishes for a great conference and heading back to your communities that much richer in knowledge, inspiration, and excitement. HD

Rosalyn Cama, FASID, is Board Chair, The Center for Health Design. Her forthcoming book, Evidence-based Design for Healthcare: A Design Methodology linked to Improved Outcomes, will be published by John Wiley and Sons.

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Healthcare Design 2008 November;8(11):10