Our experiences as Summer Leadership Summit Next Generation Scholars


Our 2018 Summer Leadership Summit (SLS) Next Generation Scholars provided the Academy with a write up on their experiences of being a scholar and attending the SLS conference for the first time.

By Caitlin Cashner, AIA | Payette


I wrote in my letter to the scholarship committee that if I were given the opportunity to participate in the Summer Leadership Summit that I hoped to join a forum that allows for healthcare architects to zoom back out from the specifics of day-to-day tasks to understand the significant role our work plays in the built environment. The conference certainly provided that moment for me. Often during the presentations, I found myself noting the relevance of something a speaker mentioned to my own work experience. This was prevalent from the very beginning of the conference. At the FGI guidelines workshop, the discussion regarding the creation and modification of regulations, which in my everyday office life are simply rules looked up in a book, was made real. It was a hands-on taste of the rigorous process through which guidelines are defined and the potential controversies that can arise. Listening to a variety of strong opinions and viewpoints that diverged based on the type of clinic or patient population highlighted how much influence these guidelines can have and the importance of the work that goes into determining their specificity and scope. This “zoom out” from my focused and narrowed everyday view was enlightening and will certainly be remembered to the next time I crack open that FGI book. Moments like this one at the conference occurred throughout the weekend and helped me relate my ancillary experiences at work to a broader view of healthcare design.

Another goal of mine when applying to this conference was a desire to better understand design’s historical and future role in shaping how patients receive care. This wish was filled particularly in the lecture given by Dr. Paul Tang discussing the role of AI in healthcare, and Eric Dishman’s Ted-talk regarding precision medicine. Dr. Tang spoke eloquently of the harnessing AI and its possible fantastic benefits. He spoke equally as eloquently regarding the moral dilemmas inherent in AI and in keeping up with technology in general. I found his way of dissecting problems and inherent positivism in looking for solutions inspiring as a goal for design in general. A different lecture spoke of the “next big thing being a lot of small little things” and I believe the care with which Dr. Tang was applying to the consideration of AI in the healthcare space was a well and carefully designed approach that could and should be the role of design when applied to any unknown future of architecture.

I confess to enjoy learning about the history and evolution of healthcare and medicine, sometimes more than considering future possibilities (and selfishly I wouldn’t mind seeing a few talks on these topics appear at the conference). I have always enjoyed understanding the influences and repercussions of history on our current milieu, however, Mr. Dishman’s personal narrative reminded me of a different kind of learning from history. His own health care experiences have driven him to create a platform to improve health care for others. His story was a great reminder that we all come with our own experiences and histories and often these are the greatest fuels for passionate investment in the spaces we design for others.

The last request in my scholarship letter was that I wanted to learn from thought leaders in the industry so that I can become an authority on healthcare and architecture. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from all over the country and be given time to pick their brains regarding their careers and experiences. There was such a wealth of knowledge in the room from the attendees alone. In future conferences, it would be great to hear and learn from some of these people in a more formal way. I enjoyed observing the friendships that have been cultivated at this conference over the years and perhaps starting to cultivate a few friendships of my own. It was lovely to hear from my own contemporaries of their backgrounds and experiences in healthcare design and see where we had overlapping commonalities or stark differences. 

In my future involvement with the conference and the 2019 conference committee, I hope to deepen my understanding of the different ways healthcare architecture is practiced globally. I saw some steps being made at this year’s conference to open up the discussion beyond the United States and I was very intrigued with the diversity this could bring to the overall healthcare conversation. I hope to draw upon the experience of others to strengthen my ability to communicate with those outside the design field, specifically those experts in the medical field. And I hope to continue building upon what I learned at this year’s conference and continue deepening my understanding of the technical, financial, and social forces that affect healthcare architecture.

I want to thank the committee very much for the opportunity to attend this year’s conference. I look forward to working on next year’s SLS event and discovering all that goes into putting a conference together.

By Anne Schwab | GBBN


I approached the SLS conference with very few preconceived notions. I had been briefed that this event was different from most other conferences in that it was intentionally limited in number of attendees, and that the speakers are, for the most part, not architects. I had reviewed the detailed agenda, scanned the titles of the sessions, and after doing some cursory research on the presenters found myself (unrealistically) wishing that each speaker could provide a tidy packet of insight that would ensure the absolute success of any design for both the architect and the client. Realistically, I know that design is a subjective practice and that there are no straightforward one-size-fits-all answers or processes that solve all the complex challenges of healthcare design. The structure of the SLS conference allows architects to confront these complexities head-on through the power of networking, knowledge sharing, and interdisciplinary brainstorming.

The FGI workshop provided great insight into how codes are developed and carefully considered. Hearing different viewpoints from professionals working across a vast spectrum of project scales and typologies helped my understanding of the “why” behind a base exam room model and the ways in which it might need to modify. I was part of the group discussing the pediatric exam room and heard the perspective of an inspector, who was requesting a change to the FGI guidelines to help her avoid a tedious step in her review process. Perhaps the FGI committee might not have considered the proposed change if the conversation hadn’t been facilitated as such. That felt like a powerful moment where networking and discussion had the potential to leverage the field altogether. 

I enjoyed the broad exposure to the resources that are provided through the Center for Health Design. I was aware of the Knowledge Repository previously, having worked with a colleague to obtain some journal articles on the topic of healthcare in Saudi Arabia, but it was great to hear about the breadth, depth, and history of the Center for Health Design as a resource. I will most certainly be referring to this database on projects in the future. 

On a very practical note, I gained some insight about presentation styles and formats. Conveying complex information in a visual format can be difficult to get right, especially when you’re speaking over the slides. It was easy to tell when a speaker’s point resonated with the audience – people either frantically scribbled notes or raised a phone or tablet to snap a photo of the slide. I realized that it’s especially important to bring a strong point of view to the presentation, even if it’s met with some amount of debate or pushback. It was clear that debate is healthy and should be welcomed in this setting. 

I appreciated Jessica Traver’s insight on innovation during the luncheon. Her position as a young female designer supporting healthcare professionals was quite relatable for me. (Kudos to the committee for gathering a diverse group of speakers!) Jessica’s answer to the question from the audience about tips for innovating within a risk-averse healthcare environment has stayed with me. “Find your champion. Find the innovative and interested early adopters to be a proponent within the client group.” I think this speaks to the amount of trust and collaboration that it takes between designer and user in order to make these projects come to fruition.

There is no single way to measure the impact of design on healthcare successes, but there’s no question that good design contributes to improved healthcare outcomes. The definition of success in and of itself will vary for each stakeholder involved in the project, which makes goal and vision setting sessions even more important at the outset of each new project, as agreed upon goals and visions provide a benchmark to check against as key decisions are made throughout the design phases. One of the ideas that has stuck with me since the conference is that clients sometimes have different measures of success than designers do. I’d like to think that we can learn from client measurements by using quantitative data to support qualitative design decisions. I had never heard of Lean Six Sigma teams, but did research on the topic after the conference and am excited about the potential of lean design to manage the client conversation. It seems like a clear way to drill down through subjective opinions to objective information. 

I am looking forward to working with the 2019 SLS planning committee over the course of the upcoming year. I hope to gain some insight on how to curate a group of speakers around whatever the chosen topic ends up being. I’m curious about how the development of the theme for the conference works and I look forward to hearing about what the committee sees as the most pressing issues in the field. I’m excited to work with Caitlin to represent the emerging professional generation of healthcare architects. And as always, I look forward to continuing to practice the skill of working with confidence in the face of uncertainty. We know that we cannot truly predict the impact of technology and delivery models for healthcare on design and physical space. One of the last questions that was raised on the closing panel targeted this uncertainty – how do we design for what we don’t know? It felt like a lingering and haunting question for most everyone in the room. Perhaps we can revisit this question in some manner in 2019. 

I would not have been able to attend this conference without the generous support of the AAH, ACHA, and AIA provided via the SLS scholarship. I am grateful to have made new connections with both peers and mentors, to have broadened my understanding of healthcare architecture, and to have been pushed outside my comfort zone with networking and public speaking. I look forward to representing my generation of emerging professionals and working alongside the planning committee to shape the 2019 SLS conference.

About the SLS Next Generation Scholarship

The Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) and the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) sponsors two emerging professionals seeking licensure to attend the Summer Leadership Summit (SLS). The SLS is an annual gathering in Chicago of approximately 175 leaders in healthcare design from the U.S. and around the world. Attendees convene for two days of presentations and panel discussions that address the future of healthcare from the government, healthcare organization and design community perspectives. The 2019 scholarship program will open in February.

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