Hui Cai is making an impact in the industry on three fronts: teaching the next generation of industry professionals, leading research in underserved areas, and collaborating with industry partners and professional committees.

In the classroom, Cai, who earned her PhD in 2011 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, aims to bridge education, research, and design using an evidence-based design approach, which she’s developed through a variety of experiences, from serving as the health and science research leader at CallisonRTKL from 2012 to 2013 to teaching healthcare design lectures and studios at University of Missouri from 2013-2014. She joined the University of Kansas (KU) faculty in 2014 as an assistant professor. In 2019, she was appointed associate director of the school’s Institute of Health and Wellness Design (IHWD), where she leads the education of the Health and Wellness Design graduate certificate program, and this summer she was named chair of the department of architecture.

As a researcher, she’s tackled underserved areas, including behavioral health and rural hospital design, to help draw students’ attention to these topics. In 2020, Cai developed a cross-institute interdisciplinary research-based design seminar with professor Debajyoti Pati and interior design students from Texas Tech University, with the collaborative class engaging rural hospital CEOs and other leaders on design approaches in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To further ignite students’ passion, she involves them in hands-on field studies and research publications, and in 2020 guided graduate students on a post-occupancy evaluation research on the impacts of visibility and accessibility of hand sanitizer dispensers on nurses’ hand hygiene compliance, with the work published in the Health Environment Research and Design (HERD) Journal. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked with colleagues at KU and the American Institute of Architects to launch ArchMap, an online database and dashboard that documents the design and construction efforts on alternative care sites. Additionally, she brought her expertise to the Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) by participating on the 2020 Health Guidelines Revision Committee’s topic group for rural health and the Emergency Conditions Committee’s Small and Rural Health Subcommittee.

What do you love most about your job?

One part that I love is the potential impact it can make on future healthcare designers and medical planners. I’m glad to be able to help students find their passion in healthcare design and start to understand the impacts the healthcare environment can make on patients, families, and healthcare professionals. It’s especially obvious during the last year when students were engaged in the design of alternative care sites for surge capacity for COVID-19 patients, and they realized the important value of the work of healthcare designers on everyone’s life.

What industry challenges do you hope to solve?

Health disparity in rural communities and lack of support for rural healthcare facilities. More research is needed to support healthcare designers to develop evidence-based designs in rural healthcare facilities to provide more efficient care that fits the unique rural context.

What’s the next major trend you anticipate for healthcare design?

The integration of telemedicine that offers safety and efficiency with human-centered care that provides a high-quality in-person experience. Future healthcare design will also have built-in flexibility and better emergency preparedness.

Who/what inspires you?

I was fortunate to have worked with many great mentors, such as Dr. Craig Zimring, Dr. Kent Spreckelmeyer, and Dr. Frank Zilm. They are my role models and inspire me to be a good educator like them.

What did you learn over the past year?

Resilience and adaptability. The past year has posed great challenges in many aspects, but I was amazed by how resilient we are as a society. I think the key is to be flexible and adaptable, and always keep a positive attitude.