With an academic background in the biological sciences and architecture, Y Pham’s diverse interests have combined into a career path in interior design. Over the past two and a half years of working at Smith Group, Pham has contributed significantly to the company’s architectural business and culture. She has brought her talents and vision to the outpatient and specialty oncology clinics at Kaiser Permanente, UCSF Medical Center, and John Muir Health.

Additionally, in 2020, she was one of six people across the 1,300-person company to receive a Smith Group Exploration Scholarship. This scholarship supports a six-month period of self-directed study and innovation, which Pham has used to develop an approach to interpreting the principles of designing spaces that support users with autism. In her final summary report, she hopes that this approach to designing autism will also open up potential guidelines for other sensitivity designs. The vision and rigor she has applied to understand how to defend, design and build better facilities for an unrecognized population sums up her ability to think about the big picture.

Other recent work includes co-authorship with Dr. Mardel Shepley at Cornell University and others on a peer-reviewed research paper titled “Staff and Resident Perceptions of Mental Health and Behavioral Environments,” which was published in the journal Building Research and Information. One of Fam’s major contributions has been to find an easy-to-understand and compelling method for communicating complex research methodology. Later I presented on the topic with Dr. Shipley at the 2021 Healthcare Design + Expo, where speakers presented a focused survey tool developed by the research team to capture patients’ assessment of the importance and effectiveness of designed environmental features.

Outside of her projects, she continually contributes to efforts that advance company-wide practice, including a post-occupancy assessment study across multiple projects on the effectiveness of the on-stage/off-stage model in clinic design.

As noted in her nomination, “Y has the determination to address the goals we want to achieve in the healthcare environment and has a real understanding of the solutions and frameworks to do better. She makes her research methodology accessible and comprehensive, and has a clear way of explaining the ‘why’ behind it all. She has driven achievements Y is really impressive for the group conversation forward about how to craft purposeful design that responds to people in a humane and inclusive way.”

The path to healthcare design: I have always had an interest in the creative arts and started my undergraduate studies as a fine arts student, but I realized that drawing alone was not enough for me. I want my work to not only touch people, but also become a part of their lives. Through circumstances and the imprecise impulse of my family, I became fascinated with biology and pursued life sciences research. In the end, medication wasn’t my way (sorry, mom and dad), but it taught me to care and think critically, and it motivated me to pursue healthcare design.

Describe your design approach: Great human-centered, evidence-based storytelling.

On your desk now: I currently work in the construction department for a cancer center and collaborate on medical planning for a new outpatient center. I am also writing a report on my exploration of how to help bridge the communication gap between autism research design and design practice.

Most rewarding project so far: Collaboration on Smith Group’s Fare2Care concept for a healthcare design competition that transcends conceptual designs. The opportunity gave me the freedom to drive and jump outside of what is traditionally expected of architectural designers. As patient experiences continue to go beyond the physical space, we have applied design thinking to ensure and enhance equitable access to primary care in the future given the existing infrastructure. It’s also special to me because the patient personalities are built on my previous research and the patients I’ve met. I like that our futuristic design has real people behind it.

What does success mean to you: Success is when you didn’t get there on your own. The best and most elegant work comes from the accumulation of knowledge, intelligence and experience shared across different disciplines, generations and individual experts.

Industry challenge on your radar: Deeper integration of smart technology and artificial intelligence is inevitable to simplify clinical care. As designers, we learn to strategize for structural flexibility to adopt new technologies as they progress and evolve into the future. However useful these tools may be, they raise the challenge of maintaining the human touch and communicating confidence in healthcare design. To balance automation without violating privacy, human interaction must remain central to design development, while technology must be used to aid in the experiment.

Must-have skill for today’s healthcare designers: To be able to adapt and be comfortable with changes. We move very carefully in our field, as needed, but we should not allow it to be the enemy of innovation. It’s easy to lose yourself in the workload of a project, but I encourage fellow determined people to continue to share and listen to findings and lessons learned within and outside the community. We are problem solvers, you never know where the inspiration for innovative solutions comes from.

New pandemic-inspired work habit: I consciously practice being grateful rather than apologizing when I need professional support or help. It’s easy to feel disconnected from your team during a remote/mixed workplace, which can lead to poor or lack of communication. I have learned to determine what question to ask across different media to effectively spend my and my colleague’s time. Small practices like saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” can change the way you think to be more positive and productive when faced with a challenge, especially for young professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Ann Dinardo is the Executive Editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Reply