Kara McDonald took a kind of vision test and passed with flying colors — and lighting, fabrics, finish, furnishings and other elements of health care interior design.
Actually, it was the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers Examination. McDonald, 33, an interior designer with Oklahoma City's Miles Associates: Architecture Planning and Interiors, is the first — and so far only — person in Oklahoma to earn the AAHID Certificate.
The exam covers acute care, ambulatory and outpatient care, long-term care, senior living, as well as medical, retail and hospitality support services, codes, guidelines and other aspects of health care interior design. Five years of experience, a portfolio review and professional references are required for anyone to attempt the exam.
McDonald's recent experience includes work at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, the OU Children's Physicians Building and atrium, Presbyterian Tower and Edmond Medical Center.
Adding “health care” to “interior design” adds layers of concerns not addressed in, say, a regular office setting, such as infection control, patient health and safety and the welfare of physicians, staff and visitors, McDonald said, physical and emotional.
Thinking about the time all those people spend in a given space, and how they use it and respond to it, drives her vision, she said.
“When a lot of people think about architecture, they might not think about the experience of somebody in the space, how they see it. But you're at work or using that space more than you are at home, and so it needs to be fitting to what the environment is,” McDonald said.
Take a laboratory, for example.
“Somebody might think that that's more technical, just dry space. But it still can be uplifting and energetic to somebody that has to be standing on their feet for long hours while they're doing research,” she said.
Take a chair.
“Most people might not think you need a wider chair for a parent and a child, or a bariatric patient, or creating the function for each space that also makes those people more at ease,” McDonald said.
Take a hallway.
“We talk about experiences going all the way down to way finding or lighting, and creating little tricks to lighting,” she said. “If you're walking down a long corridor, not making an older patient feel like that corridor's going to go forever, creating different nodes, (so) they know to turn now,” or that a nurse station is just ahead.
Take the vibrant OU Children's Physician atrium.
“When you look at the atrium, there's not a lot of color, but the color that is there really stands out. There's actually one wall that's painted red, and then you have the (decorative aerial) butterflies that have lots of color,” McDonald said. “Something we looked at in the atrium is creating this patient experience in positive distraction.
“You have a lot of people coming in that are scared, that are coming in for surgery, or they're going to spend their entire day there — they're not from Oklahoma City, they might be from some small town that's three hours away — so, creating this environment where they can look up and see butterflies and see the curving ceiling. It's taking away from their concerns.”
The big push in hospital and health care design is to make such spaces look and feel more like hospitality space — hotels — than not, said Jorge Charneco, senior vice president for Miles Associates, 865 Research Parkway, Suite 100.
“They're not sterile white anymore, and one of the things Kara has to do is take that aesthetic, hospitality, and get it up to health care standards so you have infectious control. You have all sorts of technical issues that are there in the background,” he said. “It feels like a hotel but it functions completely differently, consistent with the requirements of the hospital.”
It takes more than being “good with colors” or somebody “who can pick furniture,” Charneco said.
The American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers “is the standard to identify those interior designers who are uniquely qualified to meet the needs and challenges of the health care interior design industry,” said Jocelyn Stroupe of Cannon Design in Chicago, a past president.
McDonald's earning the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers Certificate is “a big honor for Kara, but it's a big honor for Miles Associates, as well,” Charneco said. “It represents the caliber of individuals that we want to recruit, that we want to retain and that we want to see in Oklahoma.”