Laughing cheerily through our interview, an interviewee paused mid-thought. Counting 20, 24, 28…
With a deep breath and drop in his voice, he concluded that he had been in and out of homelessness for 32 years. His child was born on the streets, grew up on the streets, and now was my age.
Research, more than it ever had before, was bringing me into long, meaningful conversations with individuals I might not normally interact with for more than 15 seconds. I left these conversations in awe of sheer human resilience. These conversations fought my biases, my walls, what I was told and taught and had learned over a lifetime about who is what and where they belong and what they deserve.
Looking back, my year with Health for America (now at MedStar Health) shifted the way I approach research, from conducting interviews with the intent to extract data to having conversations with the intent to connect and understand. What does she hope for? What brings her joy? What fears drive her behavior? What motivations dictate her tendencies? Who is she, beyond a patient? For she is so much more than a patient. This shift in intent is pivotal to the way we go about designing solutions for health and health care.
Today, I am involved in large scale international and domestic health projects alike. In any given day, I jump between interviewing Baltimore's most resilient homeless and its most esteemed physicians. Recognizing all stakeholders, especially patients, as the experts of their own experience within the care continuum is a key learning born from HFA. In teaching design thinking workshops for health care, with students ranging from patients to providers and from start-ups to hospital administration, I keep this learning central to each stage of the design process.
In this lifetime, I intend to help people get a better chance at the health and happiness they deserve. In a fully immersive fellowship year, HFA built the basis for me to move forward in my career, recognizing that good solutions are born only from a strong understanding of the individuals using them - not just as patients or providers, but as people. It set a new standard for how I go about design research.
Connection. Vulnerability. Understanding. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what it’s all about.
Sandra Hwang conducts research and manages healthcare projects at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a design thinking educator across the healthcare system, with students ranging from patients to providers to pre-accelerators. Read all Alumni Voices posts here.