Throughout our lives, we meet a smattering of memorable people who leave their imprint on us and sometimes even on who we become as people. I think this is especially true in the healthcare and design industry; an industry that is full of extraordinary people and personal stories of healthcare at its best, and, sadly sometimes at its worst. But these stories, whether they are our own or ones we hear through the lore of the healthcare organizations whose projects we are involved with, feed the passion that drives us.

I have been fortunate enough to have a long string of people who I have learned from over the years, people who have touched my life, inspired me, and still do to this day. One of those people is Norman Polsky. Anyone who has been in the design side of healthcare for more than a decade has probably met Norm-and likely has a few of the miniature “Squeeze Me Norm” flashlights with his picture on it that he pulls from his pockets and hands out to everyone he meets. To me, Norm is the ultimate example of “getting it right” by making a difference in the world.

I first met Norm in the late 1980s when I was still a student and President of the National Student Council for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Norm is an entrepreneur with an amazing work ethic. He started Fixtures Furniture in 1947 as a one-person operation producing coat racks. Success with that product line led to expansion into counter stools, then tables and chairs, establishing Fixtures as an innovator of commercial furniture with advanced design. With his success, Norm invested in others, specifically in organizations whose work he believed in. He set up scholarships and foundations, lecture series, and awards. Norm doesn't believe in just giving away money; he believes in giving people and organizations both the funds and the tools they need to be successful in the long run. He embodies the proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” It is those qualities that prompted The Center for Health Design's Board or Directors to give Norm a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

When I moved on from my involvement with the ASID to The Center for Health Design (CHD), I stayed in touch with Norm. He was initially an exhibitor at the annual HEALTHCARE DESIGN conference and later became a financial supporter of our work, including CHD in his family foundation's annual grants. Because of this connection, I've had the pleasure of receiving monthly letters and having regular conversations with Norm throughout the years.

All of us spend so much time trying to understand how we can improve the quality of the healthcare experience for patients, staff, and families-often stressing out over our jobs and not taking care of ourselves. So, I thought it might be valuable to share some of Norm's wisdom on how we can take some of the pressures off the healthcare system by adopting habits that might help us stay out of the system one day down the road. The following are some excerpts from an article published by Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, “Wellness for Living Younger and Longer to Avoid Crisis in Healthcare”:

  1. Take care of your body-if it wears out, you have no place to live

  2. Eat less, but eat more vegetables and fruit

  3. Exercise-walk at least 30 minutes or 10,000 steps a day and do strength training at least once per week

  4. Develop good close relationships

  5. Learn to handle emotional stress well-be resilient

  6. Stay flexible with yoga or tai chi, practice balance, stand on one foot while you brush your teeth

  7. Get regular health exams, maintain normal cholesterol and blood pressure, know the signs of a heart attack

  8. Maintain mental exercise by reading books and newspapers and keep learning-turn off the television

  9. Stay busy and volunteer in your community to be with young people

  10. Prevention tips-drink eight glasses of water, drink green tea, take vitamins

  11. Practice safe sun habits

  12. Have a positive mental attitude-be optimistic each and every day

  13. See your doctors regularly and follow their advice

  14. Don't retire at 65 and invest wisely to attain financial independence past the age of 100

And finally, here are some words of wisdom from Norm himself, his “Ten Commandments to be Successful”:

  1. Long, hard, fast, organized hours every day-don't waste time.

  2. Continued learning: join associations, attend conferences, get a second degree or a masters

  3. Build your network of people-don't burn bridges with anyone

  4. Be ethical every day of your life-do what is the right thing to do no matter what

  5. Kindness is contagious-Catch it! And the Golden Rule to help others

  6. Obtain a mentor-someone you respect and would like to emulate

  7. Physical fitness-positive mental attitude in spite of various cross currents from those who say it can't be done

  8. Have a sense of humor, even about yourself

  9. Build your brand: You!

  10. Write your creed and review it frequently to get back on track. HD

The Center for Health Design is located in Concord, California. For more information, visit Healthcare Design 2010 June;10(6):10