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My leap into the unknown

After seven years of teaching art and design full-time at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, last month I left academia to work as a designer in a large medical center. Last week I started as an experience design strategist at The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, a large teaching hospital with over 7,300 staff and 450 inpatient beds. The transition is huge, not just for me but for my family, and we all left a lot behind in Philadelphia — family, friends, colleagues, a supportive community — to embark on this professional and personal Vermont adventure, which brings many unknowns.

The opportunity is a challenging new phase, and for me it builds upon a wealth of experiences, learning, and doing in the realm of social design, social practice, and community organizing. With my new role as designer embedded in a hospital, I’m not exactly sure how all of these threads intertwine, but I know that they have informed the practice and methodology which I bring to this environment. The truly exciting aspect of this work is being intentional in how the threads do intertwine within the scope of my role. I’ve been given a great deal of autonomy here to find willing partners interested in applying human-centered design to better people’s experience as patients, but also support their longterm health and wellbeing. And I am humbled by the potential and responsibility of my contribution to the domain of healthcare. As I dig into the work, I hope to continually share what I learn through the process with collaborators near and far.

I’m grateful to all of the friends, family, and colleagues who have supported me in getting to this point. This group of people includes fellow faculty at UArts and other design colleagues who have taught me a helluva lot about designing with the people we wish to impact. It also includes family members who have had to endure difficult experiences in healthcare and have therefore revealed so much to me about why this next phase of my professional life is so important and meaningful.