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Brittany Merkle

Savannah College of Art & Design
MFA Candidate Service Design
Brittany Merkle RN is a MFA Candidate in Service Design at Savannah College of Art & Design. She is currently residing in Savannah, GA. “Britt” was born & raised in Virginia (is for lovers!) where she practiced as a Registered Nurse for over 3 years. She received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing with distinction at the University of Virginia in 2014. After working in inpatient and urgent care services, Britt served as a Hospice Case Manager prior to her studies at SCAD. She holds a passion for geriatrics and finding ways to break down the complexity of long-term care services for patients and their families. Her mission is to create seamless patient and provider experiences through empathy-based service design. Britt believes in and practices systemic, ambidextrous thinking. She advocates for service design as a lens to initiate a conversation for culture change in the U.S. healthcare system.

Q: What area of the health, design, and innovation space are you most passionate about?
A: Innovative services which encompass a mindfulness for an aging population and address how we define or measure “quality” as a system. After working intimately with patients and families under hospice case management, I experienced moments of transcendence at the bedside. Much of my time was spent helping patients or families navigate through the tangled web of long-term or memory care services. Many of the gaps within aging services are not necessarily a medicine problem but a quality problem. I am passionate about services which are open to and looking toward a paradigm shift in research and quality assurance. Aging services could benefit greatly from the use of service design principles and practices. I believe we need to move past the surveys, utilizing ethnographic and fly-on-the-wall observation for real answers in real time.

Q: What method, technology, tool, trend, or advancement gets you fired up the most?
A: I am all about a service blueprint, all day everyday let’s service blueprint. A blueprint can really make a huge difference in looking from a bird’s eye view at an organization or even completely starting over from scratch when designing for healthcare. It builds off of a patient journey map (which walks through step-by-step from pre to post-service how a person or family experiences a service) as well as covers front and back stage processes. Ever wanted to be in two places at once? I know I do. The service blueprint gets me most fired up when it is developed with a diverse team of providers, patients or other involved stakeholders. It can serve as a malleable visual to iterate and ultimately bring everyone onto the same page. I highly recommend This Is Service Design Doing (2018) by Marc Stickdorn, Adam Lawrence, Markus Hormess, & Jakob Schneider to get even further fired up about service blueprints and other great tools.

Q: Why do you do the work you do? What do you enjoy most? What impact are you hoping to achieve?
A: After over 3 years of working as a Registered Nurse, I decided to make a leap of a lifetime to study as a Service Designer. To be honest, I knew I was in the wrong role in the right industry. I began a nursing career because I felt it was an extension of my character and it was difficult for me to let this go. I grew tremendously in my short years as a nurse, trying to embrace what I thought was going to be my niche for making a difference. I surprised myself in that I did not become infatuated with the clinical or adrenaline-seeking aspects of the job and in fact, this realization quite terrified me. Yes, I cleaned a bullet hole today (that was pretty cool) but all I can think about is my patient’s story and their comfortability in the context. I wanted to know more about social determinants, what patients or family members value or what truly matters to them in their care or their lifestyle. I still felt like something was missing and that something was design. I hope to further the service design agenda in healthcare services and initiate an open dialogue on what really needs to change.

Q: Ideally, what do you think the future of health will hold? How will design help us to get us there?
A: I see the future of health changing rapidly and continuously over the next decade. We will see a lot of technological changes in adaptive learning and the rise of artificial intelligence in the healthcare space with greater data sets and advanced tools for at-home monitoring. Ideally we will also see increased and improved communication with the potential for a universal electronic medical record and (hopefully) elimination or vast redesign of the notorious fax machine. All of these exciting endeavors aside, the main theme I project changing in healthcare and in much of behavioral economics will be the shift to a service-mindset rather than product-oriented design. Service design is the key to bringing this shift to the forefront of managerial decisions and pushing changes in the healthcare industry further. Service is no longer reserved for hotels or restaurants, healthcare organizations and the system as a whole must quickly come up to speed with service and human-centered designs in order to maintain competitive advantage.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles you face? How might your organization or the industry help to solve them?
A: One of the biggest challenges I see in healthcare service design particularly is a lack of common discourse and the friction this causes. I believe there is a sweet spot between medical jargon and full-fledged design talk. It is crucial for designers to hold (pause for buzzword) empathy for patients, yet it is just as significant to have the touchy feelies for providers and every other stakeholder involved in the service. Vice versa, providers and management in healthcare should be exposed to design practices and the benefit of ambidextrous thinking. As a MFA Service Design candidate at Savannah College of Art & Design, I have learned and continue to learn a great deal about how to help an organization move from point A to B or sometimes Z. I believe one of the first and most difficult places to start is establishing a common language. Design consultants then may serve as sense-makers, facilitators or liaisons amongst very diverse parties.
Q: What would you tell your younger self?
A: I heard over and over again, “you can do ANYTHING with nursing.” In my earlier years I translated that to mean I could work in any specialty or unit, from pediatrics to geriatrics, surgery to infectious disease. In my mind the options seemed unlimited and yet I felt so boxed in. After a few years of practicing nursing and a lifetime of closeting my artwork, I finally broke down the box and made moves toward a creative career. I would not necessarily tell myself to pass up the growth I was blessed to experience as a young nurse or advocate this route for everyone. I would impress upon myself to fear less and share more; prepare for peaks and valleys as I venture into the gray area. When it comes to making a difference, I wish I knew earlier how I could do this in my own, non-traditional way.

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