Building Tomorrow’s Healthcare Architects

Updated on April 4, 2013
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IKM’s Tami Greene AIA Meets with young architects.

Healthcare architecture is extremely complex. It involves managing multiple parameters and requirements focused on creating an environment that is safe and efficient while establishing a superior patient experience enhancing and supporting the healing process. It must organize numerous systems in a manner that facilitates exceptional care and balances the needs of a wide range of stakeholders.

Training tomorrow’s healthcare architects is equally complex. When the American Institute of Architects announced Pittsburgh-based, IKM Incorporated as a recipient of the National Intern Development Program (IDP) Firm Award 2012-2015,  IKM knew they were on the right track with building tomorrow’s architects and specifically tomorrow’s healthcare architects.

This national award recognizes IKM, as one of only 11 firms in the U.S. selected for this honor. IKM is a 100-year old Pittsburgh-based architectural firm, known for such local projects as UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Phipps Conservatory Welcome Center and Tropical Forest and the Westinghouse Corporate Headquarters.

Mindy Coblentz, LEED AP, joined IKM as a graduate architect. Since that time she has produced design development and construction documents as part of the IKM design team for the renovation of three floors at UPMC Mercy to create the Institute for Research and Rehabilitation. She has worked as part of the design team for the master planning and renovation of Victoria Hall at the University of Pittsburgh for the School of Nursing. And, she is currently working on one of the largest healthcare projects for which the firm has been commissioned, the West Virginia University Healthcare expansion.

Interns in architecture aren’t what you think of when you first think “intern.” The generally accepted definition of an intern is a student who is still in school, who is seeking practical work experience for their first resume and who ultimately will use that experience to assist them with securing a job upon graduation. Not so in architecture. In architecture, an intern is an individual who has graduated from (often times) a 5-year professional degree program featuring a rigorous design-oriented curriculum with a solid foundation in technology complemented by a study of the history of architecture.

Today, five years later, Ms.Coblentz is well on her way to becoming a healthcare architect thanks in part to the IKM Intern Development Program, and yet she is still considered an intern architect. It is a title she currently embraces.

“Explaining my title as an intern architect always causes confusion, so, more often we are referred to as project coordinators or job captains,” says Coblentz.  “My experience during my internship at IKM is that my more experienced coworkers are willing to share their knowledge with me and to expose me to learning opportunities in and out of the office. I’ve had great opportunities here.”

This is “a period of transition for every architect between the academia and registration,” says Stephen R. Lee, AIA, Professor and Head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University.

Upon graduation, an intern architect must complete 5,600 hours of professional practice and then complete the architectural registration exam (ARE). Equivalent to almost three years of full-time work, those hours of practice are catalogued through the National Council of Architectural Registration Board and the IDP, or Intern Development Program.

“We are honored to have this recognition bestowed on our firm,” said Tami P. Greene, AIA, NCARB, senior project manager and registered architect for IKM. “We have worked hard to improve our IDP program to serve the changing needs of our young architects and to reflect our ever-changing profession. And, we recognize that healthcare architecture requires a higher degree of knowledge associated with the design guidelines.”

The IKM program was formalized in 2006 with recognition of the need for more structured criteria to aid young architects in their preparation for the professional registration exam (ARE).

Since that time, the IKM program has grown and developed led by Ms. Greene who states “It was through my personal experience with the process and discussing the needs of interns in our office that I was able to identify the goals of our program.

“IKM’s IDP program goals are to:

  • Provide opportunities for a well-rounded experience that efficiently fulfills the professional practice requirements and develops the emerging professional;
  • Supply a current library of study resources and practice tests for the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE);
  • Build a culture where all the staff understand and support the efforts of the intern, contributing every possible opportunity;
  • Develop a structured format to monitor Interns’ experiences and give them opportunity to voice suggestions, concerns and questions along the way.”

IKM implemented an IDP Cohort, in 2008, which consists of a group of individuals on staff that helps to schedule events, develop resources, and keep the program growing.

The result is an IKM professional development program that provides direct experience in the field, on job sites; participation with clients at user meetings; requesting opportunities from other Project Managers at bi-weekly staffing meetings until it became part of the office culture; regularly scheduled tours of manufacturing plants; preparing and organizing lessons-learned lunch seminars; and a standing meeting every month with the intern and their supervisor to talk just about the IDP process.

The Intern Development Program Advisory Committee of American Institute of Architects National organization chose 11 firms from nationwide submissions that have demonstrated a deep commitment and innovation in the training of the next generation of graduate architects. IKM satisfied all twelve criteria for the award making it an exemplary environment for graduate interns pursuing licensure.

The Intern Development Program began in 1976 by the AIA and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards to ensure the support of graduate architects in the changing profession of architecture. Through a series of required activities, IDP enables participants to acquire knowledge, understanding and skills that form t he core competences related to successful architectural practice. IDP is structured in a way that effectively responds tithe training needs of young architects by providing a wide range of resources, established progressive benchmarks, advice and mentor guidance throughout the internship period of a graduate architects training.

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