Partner Highlight: American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA)


Every parent of a mid-teenager knows the right of passage enabled by a driver’s license. The anticipation begins a couple of years before, and parental panic embeds itself at the first solo excursion. While technically possible, driving without a license is both ill-advised and illegal. Practicing architecture also requires training and a demonstration of minimal competence against a dispassionate set of jurisdictionally established standards. While technically possible, practicing architecture without a license is both ill-advised and illegal. Practicing the specialty of healthcare architecture requires substantial specialized training, continuous education, deep technical understanding, and broad knowledge of the business of healthcare. While technically possible, practicing healthcare architecture without proper preparation and experience is ill-advised, yet remains legal.

The American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) exists to independently confirm what architectural firm marketeers can only claim – that those who are board certified possess the knowledge, experience, and skills to competently lead clients through the complexities of healthcare architecture. The idea of specialized certification parallels practices of medicine, finance, or information technology. Although the AIA contemplated specialty certification in the 1990s, the idea was sidelined. However, a small group of nationally known healthcare practitioners saw the benefits of specialization in the high-stakes field of healthcare architecture. In the initial recruiting 50 founding members of the American College of Healthcare Architecture launched at the turn of the third millennium.

The value of board certification in any specialty is directly related to the rigor of the distinguishing process. While architectural design juries have traditionally contemplated design excellence with varying qualitative norms, the results are not necessarily repeatable. The founders of the ACHA had the foresight to know that a deeper level of rigor that was both professionally sound and legally defensible must govern any credible attempt at framing the standard of excellence associated with board certification.  Consequently, the certification process considers both the depth of experience demonstrated in a candidate’s portfolio, as well as their applied knowledge in real-world design problems developed with psychometric precision. This exam is purposefully developed so that one cannot study alone to pass, but must apply their skills, knowledge and experience.

My favorite quote from a recent board-certified healthcare architect about the value of the certification wasn’t a complicated description, but merely that “the VALUE of the certification IS the certification.” Many have become convinced that it helps them grow professionally by the network of high-flying practitioners and academics. However, I am convinced that those who seek and achieve the higher standard possess an extra measure of gumption, which is unique to this cohort. It is elite on purpose, but hardly elitist – one is about achievement, the other is merely arrogance. I have personally found those who have pursued ACHA certification to be remarkably humble men and women, who have very little else to prove and who continue to serve our profession with their manifold gifts and abilities.

The ACHA is a vital and distinct component in the family of other organizations supporting the practice of healthcare architecture. The AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Health is the root organization, out of which came the ACHA, as well as the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation, and the Facilities Guidelines Institute. These four organizations respect each other’s charters and purposes, but in recent years have sought to coordinate their activities and clarify their messages in ways that have only strengthened our profession. For example, the main purpose of the AAH is about education and networking; the ACHA is about board-certification; the AAHF is about underwriting research; and the FGI is about standards development. Each organization makes up the whole profession yet remains distinct. We fully expect this common link from the past will grow stronger into the future, and will be announcing how this will play out in July.

One clear example of this collaboration is the Summer Leadership Summit (SLS). Each year, a relatively small group of leading healthcare architects gather in Chicago to purposefully look outside of our profession and study elements of the broader healthcare landscape, so that we can better serve our clients and their patients. For the last several years, the SLS has been jointly produced by the AAH and the ACHA. A steering committee of AAH members who are also board-certified work with the staffs of the AAH and the ACHA in alternating years to develop the educational content, tours, and other activities. Recently, the AAHF event has both intensified the camaraderie and raised funds for research by their event, and the FGI has become an educational fixture to share current issues related to the development of design standards. In the relatively fragmented world of architectural organizations, these four pillars of healthcare architecture are demonstrating the power of cooperation.

35916_2016_ACHA_72_sm.jpgImage: Patsy McEnroe Photography

35916_2016_ACHA_57.jpgImage: Patsy McEnroe Photography

For those that are so inspired to consider board certification to advance their understanding of our specialty, I invite you to visit the ACHA website for more information about our pre-certification candidate program, or ways to prepare for certification. By mid-year, the ACHA will be publishing two videos that illustrate the value of board certification to individuals who may consider this next step in their careers and to firms who practice healthcare and are competing for the best talent. The ACHA exists to bridge the needs of practitioners in their graduated career development and to provide firms with those that have independently distinguished themselves as leaders in our profession.


William J. Hercules, FAIA, FACHA
President of the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA)