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Mentoring is for All Ages!

Healthcare design columnist Jane Rohde shares some personal stories about the power of peer support.

Frye Museum Cafe Garden screen shot

While sitting having lunch at the Frye Museum in Seattle—a café of concrete and steel, glass and wood with a view of the courtyard—I realized with great enthusiasm that mentoring is not only for the young designer but for all ages as professionals grow and change in our healthcare design practices, creating spaces that not only promote healing but also encourage relaxation and calming of the mind that allows creativity to flow!

Mentoring: Giving Back
A few months ago, Lauren, a student who I mentored at the request of her professor as she worked through her Masters’ thesis in Interior Design, contacted me to discuss her project, which included a renovation of an older school building into an assisted living community. She was also in the process of studying for the EDAC (Evidence-based Design Accreditation and Certification) examination given by The Center for Health Design, which she has since passed with flying colors.  

Lauren is a breath of fresh air—a virtual sponge for information and opportunities for understanding and learning more about designing for seniors. We met at a Starbucks in Arlington to discuss her project and start looking at solutions. We huddled together at a small table and discussed the research that she was doing to understand the needs for residents and utilized the principles in the Senior Living Sustainability Guide® as a reference for her project. The building is located near where she grew up, which helped her to understand the culture and to establish the programming questions to ask her potential residents and family members. She took seriously the challenges of accessibility and evaluating what creates a sense of “home.” As we brainstormed and worked through different scenarios, it was clear that her passion would project her forward. Being that there is such a lack of young designers in the senior living and healthcare fields, it was so exciting to see that spark! She followed up with emails when she had questions, and I believe has a better understanding of bathroom design and spatial relationships for seniors than most professionals that I consult with on projects. 

In the last six months we have exchanged emails, sometimes with specific questions on design for elders and other times for encouragement, the best of which was after she had successfully completed and defended her thesis, thanking me for my help. With her dissertation behind her, we were able to meet in Ellicott City, so she could show me her final thesis book. As we went over the work she had completed, the sketches we had worked on together were included as pages within her thesis, labeled “Brainstorming with Jane Rohde.” It was emotional to realize that I had been able to encourage someone so interested in design and the care of elders. In a small way I had provided some support, and I knew that this young woman was going to pursue this field because she loved it.

As a passionate young designer wanting to improve environments for elders, she has some great opportunities. Completing her thesis work also made clear to Lauren that she found research to be her favorite part of the process. When a thesis can point you in the right direction, then you know it was a successful project, as it was in my personal experience as well.

While Lauren may have gained something from me, I have to say that I was the lucky one, having the opportunity to teach a young designer and to help fill in the gaps in the industry, which is so vital. Our industry needs designers in healthcare who are committed and passionate, and the only way we are going to pass the torch is to encourage and mentor young professionals, showing and exposing them to the opportunities in the healthcare sector.  

Mentoring: Providing Tools to Strategize
One of the designers who works in my office, Shernise, has a good friend, Tanisha, who has an architectural degree and works in physical and occupational therapy. She is back in school for occupational therapy, and her goal is to combine the hands-on “people part” of therapy and treatment with the design of the physical environment. By talking to her and sharing resources like The Center for Health Design and other organizations, she was made aware that like-minded people are out there that want to explore the connections between care and the environment.

We discussed the connections between the physical environment and the care provision that she provided. She was familiar with completing a physical space program and master plan, so I asked her to complete a “master plan” for her life strategy, making a list of all her strengths and what she was looking to accomplish. Then I tasked her with creating a mission statement for her life, assembling her personal vision and goals, which she took on diligently as an assignment.  

In the meantime, she had some questions about a workplace situation. From her question, I realized that most design professionals are not given any training in working with co-workers, even though integrated teams create the most successful projects.  
In the existing care setting where Tanisha works, she was a pro at working with residents to encourage them to do different activities like bathing, eating, and participating with others. Often co-workers would call upon her to resolve a resident conflict, because she had an easy-going approach and understanding with the residents, always resulting in a positive resolution.

However, she was having difficulty rectifying a conflict with another staff member. We conducted a role playing scenario with one another so that she was able to see the concerns of the person creating the conflict, giving her a new perspective on the situation. As soon as she realized what the conflict was all about, she had an “ah-ha” moment and knew that if she included the other person in the decision-making process and mutual agreement was achieved, then the issue would resolve itself. That’s when she looked at me and said, “So you are my new mentor!”

The next time we met, she had a sketch that included her “strategic life plan,” identifying her strengths, likes, and desires. Her graphic outline detailed her next steps, which included pursuing her occupational therapy degree. As we talked, I reminded her that the “strategic life plan” will continue to grow and change, as it isn’t meant to be a rigid document, but a continual process for advancement and reaching goals. Mostly, you want to be happy as you pursue the work you love to do.

Mentoring: Providing Tools to Reinvent
Before arriving in Seattle, I was in Hangzhou, China, working on Cypress Gardens, the first resident-centered nursing home in the country. My good friend and colleague, Jerry, who is also working on the project, was traveling back to Pudong Airport with me to start our journey home. We had both successfully finished a week of work in China, meeting with the client, Local Design Institute (LDI), the contractors, and visiting the building that is under construction, resolving program and design intent questions.  

As we drove the 3 hours toward Shanghai, Jerry asked me questions about being in business, and we talked about creating business based upon a specialty knowledge base—in his case therapeutic landscape. We also talked about his strengths as a facilitator, knowledge resource, and programming expertise in the strategic planning stages of new healthcare projects.

With all the changes in the healthcare marketplace—in acute care, ambulatory care, long term care, and everything in between that creates and supports the care continuum—there is an opportunity for shaping business. I pictured a matrix that covered Jerry’s strengths on one side and all the different types of care on the other, drawing together the places of intersection. From working in larger firms, the entrepreneurial side had not been as fully explored, but in knowing the programming and planning strength of Jerry’s work, opportunities abound—some with other design disciplines, but many with actual care provider clients.  

The idea of an integrated team, which has been successfully developed for our project there, contains lessons learned of how to partner and promote the upfront re-positioning process so sorely needed in the U.S. healthcare marketplace. Jerry opened his Mac and took some notes and wanted to continue our discussion stateside. This peer-to-peer dialogue was good for both of us, having some time to evaluate opportunities not only to work together, but to use our individual strengths to complement one another in a team setting.   

After I reached Seattle, I had an email from Jerry thanking me for the discussion. It ended with “Like it or not, you are my mentor!” It seems that we all need mentors from time to time. I’m still in touch with my mentor, Steven, who was my first true professional adviser in a small office in D.C. We’re very good friends, and it is reassuring to have a trusted colleague to talk to and discuss where the future may take us. Everyone in our industry has an opportunity to mentor, whether it is a young designer or sage professional—human connectivity is at the heart of all good work!

Jane Rohde is the founding Principal of JSR Associates, Inc. located in Ellicott City, Maryland. She champions a global cultural shift toward de-institutionalizing senior living and healthcare facilities through person-centered principles, research and advocacy, and design of the built environment. Clientele includes non-profit and for-profit developers, government agencies, senior living and health care providers, and design firms. Jane speaks internationally on senior living, aging, healthcare, evidence based design, and sustainability. For more information or comments, please contact Jane Rohde at