It was almost too obvious. Sitting at a conference with thousands of fellow designers, planners, and innovators in the healthcare design field, I was taken back by keynote speaker Dev Patnaik as he spoke on a topic that struggles to realistically exist in today’s culture: empathy.

He noted empathy is not a new concept; in fact, there was a time not so long ago when there was a broad and deep connection between producers and consumers that allowed everyone to prosper. Over time, there have been many contributors to the gap that separates us today; however, no one guiltier than myself. 

What was Patnaik saying to this room full of creative minds? What were the actual implications for me as a young, aspiring architect in this world that has, in some ways, lost touch with one another?

Before I could entertain the enormity of this question, the overarching answer became apparent. To be better in my world—creating, designing, and planning healthcare facilities—I need to know their world, the hurting, healing, and caring of those who live and work in said healthcare facilities.

And it would not be enough to simply research the topic, talk to those who provide or receive care in hospitals, or understand the latest trends in healthcare facility design. No, I want to know their world experientially by putting the black patent pumps up for a season and walking in their shoes. 

As the 2010-2011 HKS Healthcare Fellow, I was driven by this idea of understanding, both experientially and empathetically, the environment to which I am dedicating my career and my life to designing. Given the timeframe of the fellowship and the myriad opportunities that exist within a hospital, I have selected a single service line to concentrate on for this study.

To experience and understand the environment of a cancer patient at THR Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, I hope to follow a diverse selection of key individuals working and living in this world, gaining as many perspectives as possible over a six-month period.

What is a 12-hour shift like for the nurse who selflessly cares for these patients on the inpatient oncology unit? Or, how about the pharmacist responsible for delivering the necessary medications on time to the unit? Or the care coordinator who labors to orchestrate the treatment and the timeline for the healing and recovery of these patients? Even within the confines of a single service line, the opportunities to know this world are many. 

Following is a link to a paper prepared following the study: