Tom Susko, AIA, LEED BD+C is a talented senior architect with experience on complex healthcare projects. His leadership on healthcare and pharmaceutical projects helps clients achieve their goals for complex clinical and process driven projects. He is widely recognized for his mentorship and leadership in the firm’s healthcare practice.
Read more about how Tom approaches his work and his advice for future healthcare architects.
I didn’t always know that I wanted to be an architect. I grew up playing with Legos and building blocks, and I always enjoyed drawing. Looking back, I think these activities allowed me to mix problem solving with creativity. I enjoyed math and science, and when I was in high school, I took a series of mechanical drawing classes. It was actually one of my high school guidance counselors who recommended that I look into architecture programs.
I received my Bachelor of Architecture from Roger Williams University and started working at a small firm in Newton, MA. There I got to do a little bit of everything, from site planning to cost estimating. Since it was a small firm, I was involved with the Mechanical, Plumbing, and Electrical drawings for many of the projects. I worked closely with a retired engineer who taught me the importance of the infrastructure on each project. This experience really influenced my path and is something I try to share with everyone that I work with. From there I went to a firm that focused on healthcare. I was fortunate to be a part of many projects that ranged from small renovations to large replacement hospitals. I then worked at a firm that specialized in Pharmaceutical and Life Science work. I missed working on large scale healthcare projects and in 2016, I joined Shepley Bulfinch to be part of the ongoing work at Boston Children’s Hospital.
I don’t know what I would be if I weren’t an architect. The planning, the problem solving, the teamwork—it all makes sense to me. I really enjoy being able to help others by solving problems.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I would say the thing that I enjoy most is the collaboration between so many different entities to create something that has a positive impact at the end of the day, sometimes that is months or years in the making. I often feel like I’m the mediator or translator between the clinicians, facilities, vendors, the design and construction teams. I’m always trying to listen to and understand the needs of everyone involved and how those things come together to create a successful project for all. I try to remind people that every decision we make has an impact on others, every line we draw means something. Balancing often competing needs is part of that process and involves a constant give and take. When all of those things come together, the result is a project that all can be proud of.
Tell us more about how you approach healthcare projects.
I was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and spent my childhood living on different air force bases around the country. This really impacted the way I see the world. Organization and precision were central to life on base, both skills that are essential to architecture, especially in healthcare. As designers, we often focus on the details of spaces—materials, furniture, aesthetics. These are all important to consider, but what matters most is ensuring that clinicians can provide the best care possible in the spaces we create. I rely on my planning and organizational skills to create spaces that are comfortable and efficient for clinical staff while also welcoming and comforting to promote healing for patients.
What advice would you give younger architects who want to get involved in healthcare design?
There is such a wide range of areas you can get involved with: patient advocacy, programming, planning, exterior design, FGI guidelines, medical equipment, sustainability. The list goes on and on. Each department within a medical facility brings its own complexity and challenges. Wherever you might want to start, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn from mistakes that you make along the way. Keep an open mind about everything. Codes and technology are always changing and healthcare work is very complex – it requires a passion for learning and problem solving. If you have the desire to be part of something that impacts others in a positive way, healthcare architecture could be for you.