Why I became a healthcare architect

Building a commitment to the community isn’t just a passion, but a career.

By Sydney Goetz
I am a healthcare architect. My little Rotary badge categorizes me that way. I never mention that I am just an architect. That just sounds naked to me. I really can’t say when I started using the term healthcare architect, but I can say that my affection with healthcare architecture started with my first job in a healthcare facility. It was love at first sight. All of a sudden my craft had a purpose.

When I think about the mission to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, I can’t imagine a more pertinent arena. You contribute to people’s health, quality of life and life expectancy. But it is even more than those factors.

When you work in a hospital, you are working inside a monumental structure, or you are making a monumental structure. When you build a hospital, you are building the commitment to a community. A commitment that you will have good paying jobs that allow for personal growth, that you care for the wellness of people and that care is something people can count on for years to come.

Patients’ Headquarters
Not all healthcare work is monumental though. But it all matters. When you build a cancer treatment center in a strip mall, it becomes the headquarters for patients’ lives.  It is the backdrop to creating one of the most important chapters in someone’s life. My work therefore is creating a place that people have a more intense relationship with than, say, with the nail salon next door.

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with two vertebral aneurysms. I will never forget lying in the facility I helped build finding out that my headache had a very real cause. I remember vividly the room I prayed in the night before my surgery with my mother. I remember the heartache I had as I was discharged from the hospital. I waited on the curb for a ride and was scared to death that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself.

Putting My Ability into Overdrive
After that (and some recovery time) almost all of my work began to take on monumental meaning. I had always enjoyed my work in healthcare. I was always passionate about listening to people, but in many ways I couldn’t walk in the shoes of the patient. Okay somewhat, but being the patient really put my ability into overdrive.

For years, I worked with doctors and facilities people, and I had gotten really good at seeing their point of view. I enjoyed negotiating all of the personalities of the healthcare faculty and staff, but I was unaware that I was removed from the other perspectives.

It was only after I watched my mother sleep night after night on a stretcher pad in my shared patient room that I thought about what families really go through. When I talk about care, I never forget to walk in the shoes of the friends and families that are also caring for their loved ones. Their care becomes as important to the process as anyone else’s. My own hospital stay gave me the perspective about how care really transpires in the space. All of a sudden my little hospital canvas came alive, and I got to experience it.

Consideration for All
My aneurysm changed who I was, but it also solidified my purpose. When I design an entrance canopy for a facility, it is like I am the veteran waiting for the bus. When I design a dialysis clinic, it is like I am the daughter that accompanies her dad there every other day. But it isn’t just the patients I feel this way for. When I left the hospital, having my life saved, I felt differently about the people who treated me. I still have a picture of Dr. Paulsen on my refrigerator five years later that was cut out of newspaper. So now I feel it, when care providers discuss their issues with me. I know how hard they work to help patients.

I now program every project with  consideration for all of the healthcare staff. I want to hear from the maintenance staff, housekeeping, the chaplain, you name it—they’ll matter to the care. I value what they bring to the table. I want to help them care for people.

When you work on healthcare, your work impacts communities. I know how deep the commitment is from survivors of any
condition to the facilities that save people. My career is dedicated to helping create these environments for our community.

Sydney Goetz, AIA, is owner of Sydney Goetz Architect, LLC in Louisville, Ky.