Interior Designer II, Perkins+Will
As a nurse, Whitney Hendrickson could easily spot the problems and missteps in the design and layout of the hospitals and clinics she worked in. Now, as an interior designer specializing in health care interiors, she gets the chance to combine her passion for pediatric nursing and interest in health care planning and design into a blended career.
"As a nurse, I could see the effects of the built environment on the patients and staff," she says, "and I wanted to be able to translate the specific needs of the users to the architectural team. Depending on the hospital leadership, decisions on how spaces are used can be made unilaterally without asking the right people who work on the inside, and I want to help change that.
"Staff burnout isn't uncommon in the nature of medicine," she says, pointing to her own decision to change course after eight years of working as a registered nurse. "Working as a nurse, I always stuck out — I was creative and asked a lot of questions about why things were the way they were. Most medical professionals are more type-A than me, which is fine! I was always doing things outside of my nursing tasks anyway, giving input on how spaces were organized, or bugging my bosses for better displays or storage.
"So in the end, it wasn't a shock to my co-workers when I made the decision to go back for my Interior Design degree, whether they understood it or not! For me, research-based design and the ability to become a licensed designer helped to "legitimize" my decision. It's not just about paint colors and pillows.
"Choosing where to go to school took some research. I had a hard time justifying the cost of a traditional university," she says. "Nursing is a stable, in-demand profession, and I didn't want to go into debt for a field without that assurance. At El Centro, I was able to take all the core classes I needed to take the licensure exam in a few years to become a Registered Interior Designer without the high costs of a university. I loved being able to get real-world experience and knowledge in a faster and more economical program.
"One thing I really liked about my classes at El Centro is that there were others like me pursuing a second career, all bringing different perspectives to the classroom. Everyone is so committed because they've made such an effort to be there, and that strong work ethic raises the level of intensity and performance of the students. The three-year program was fast-paced and definitely a lot of work, but I was willing and happy to do it to get to where I am today.
"I love what I'm doing now. I used to work with pediatric patients with bone marrow transplants, various blood disorders or cancer. These kids spend a lot of time in and out of the hospital. A generically designed hospital room doesn't always meet the needs of chronic illness, and I wanted to be able to make spaces work better for them. Nurses, by design, act as advocates for their patients, and now I advocate for patients and staff in a different way in my new role.
"Now there's actual research that proves the correlation between the built environment and how people (both staff and patients) are affected. Issues like access to natural light, nurse station layout and views of nature are all being studied for what works and what doesn't. This new trend merges my science background with a design and research base and allows designers to create better spaces for people." In fact, Whitney has completed certification in Evidence-based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), as well as becoming a Registered Interior Designer (RID) in 2016.
"I always loved working with kids, and one day, I'd love to be a resource for designing children's hospitals. I truly enjoyed being a nurse, but I feel like this is what I've been called to do. I never stopped wanting to help people, but now I'm blessed with the opportunity to continue to do that on a larger scale."
Whitney Hendrickson graduated from El Centro College in May 2014 with an Associate of Applied Science degree and Advanced Technical Certificate in Interior Design. She was hired as an interior design intern with Corgan before graduating, continuing to work several nights a month as a registered nurse in an area clinic. She has worked for Perkins+Will since July 2015.
While at El Centro, Whitney served as president of the student chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) at El Centro, and was a student member of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA). She now serves on the Board of Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design, NIHD.
Whitney holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and is a Registered Nurse (RN) and Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN). At Perkins+Will, she works on health care projects doing design and documentation, focusing on evaluating and translating needs from the end user back to the design team.