Danika Franks said the spaces she worked in as an ER doctor were cold, cramped and sterile.
Walking through a corridor in the old Parkland Hospital in Dallas that connected the emergency department to the children’s hospital showed a stark difference. Franks described it as walking from a penitentiary into a heavenly space.
“In children’s spaces, we tend to think about the design and the scope and the lighting and the colors and … all of the things that we hope to aim at in taking away suffering,” Franks said. “And I remember thinking we should do this for adults.”
Noticing that difference in spaces between hospitals began Franks’ 21-year obsession with the built environment. After working in health care as an emergency doctor and as the dean of students at Texas Christian University’s medical school, Franks, 43, now runs a consultancy called Community Flourish. She works with architecture and design firms to reimagine health- care spaces with the hope of fostering healthier outcomes for patients and providers.
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“The lights, the attention to flow, placement, sound, sight, smell, touch, are all things that we engage our senses,” Franks said. “As humans, we engage that all the time and they help to influence how we navigate a space, and in health care, that’s really important.”
Becoming a doctor is necessarily rigorous, but can be difficult for a student’s mental health, Franks said. Medical students are more likely to experience burnout and depression compared to other people at the same age pursuing a different career, according to the American Medical Association.
The journey to becoming a physician includes becoming knowledgeable and dependable, but also learning how to not eat, sleep or go to the bathroom for long periods of time.
“Those can contribute to not really viewing yourself as human as perhaps the patients that you care for,” Franks said. “And so I definitely had that experience both in my medical education and residency training, and then in clinical practice. And over time, you know, it definitely took a toll on me.”
Now, Franks is envisioning what hospitals could look like.
For patients, that could be anything from using technology to quiet some of the noises in the hospital to making sure there are plenty of windows and light in the hospital rooms.
Franks is thinking about creating places of respite for doctors to deal with difficult moments. Crying in the bathroom or hallways are a normal occurrence, Franks said.
“What would it look like to put spaces in hospitals where we can humanize the experience of caring for really complex issues?” she said.
Growing up with an eye for space
Both of Franks’ parents were in the Air Force growing up, which meant moving a lot. The most beautiful place she lived was a flat in Germany, she said. Moving from one place to another to space are the roots of her appreciating spaces and noticing how it impacts behavior, she said.
Franks’ grandmother was creative, leaving behind pieces of art that she painted, sewed, knit and created in many other mediums. Franks herself says she doesn’t make artwork, but has always thought creatively about the built environment around her. One her favorite Saturday activities growing up was arranging and redesigning the house with her mother.
“It was amazing how we could take the same furniture and just place it in different places and really create a whole different experience in our home,” Franks said. “I think I caught that at a very early age.”
One of Franks’ motivations to work in the health-care space is the fact that Fort Worth has had the ZIP code with the lowest life expectancy in Texas.
“Truly, the entire health-care community needs … to join with that community,” Franks said. “They need to listen to that community and understand what the needs are from their perspective because that is a completely astounding statistic.”
Franks is in the 50th session of Leadership Fort Worth. Franks is both reinventing herself and leaning into who she is, Jennifer Treviño, executive director of Leadership Fort Worth, said. Franks’ expertise in health care gives her credibility, Treviño said.
“I just really think her voice, her platform is one that is unique as well,” Treviño said. “I think that causes people to kind of pay attention. I don’t know a lot of people doing what she’s doing or trying to do.”
Treviño enjoys having Franks in the class because she is an active participant and is willing to express vulnerability in sharing her own experiences.
“I think that helps not only her space and what she’s working on, but also the relationship she has with her fellow classmates and the staff, myself included as well,” Treviño said.
‘We’re committed to doing the work’
Danielle Rucker, an emergency medicine physician, worked with Franks when she was in residency at UT Southwestern and considers her a mentor. Rucker said she demonstrates qualities of a good leader by making people feel safe and heard.
“She kind of gives you tools that you can actually use that’ll help you with problem solving and next steps,” Rucker said. “And I feel like that’s what a leader embodies. Somebody who truly listens and gives you tangible things that you can do.”
One of Franks’ favorite places is Fort Worth’s Cultural District — specifically, the Modern and Amon Carter museums. She gravitates to places that feel like blank canvases.
“I like spaces that are like that … are open for interpretation for me to be able to feel myself in that space,” Franks said.
Franks loves Fort Worth and lives near TCU in a home with her husband, Chauncey Franks, and three children. She describes Fort Worth as a place similar to Austin 30 years ago, and hopes the city maintains its community.
Franks is also working with her husband to create a nonprofit that provides kids access to sports such as tennis. The city is changing, and making progress, she said. And Franks said she is committed to helping be part of the change.
“We’re committed to doing the work in those spaces with our colleagues and peers and, you know, the lovely community that we have built here,” Franks said.
Danika Franks bio:
Birthplace: San Antonio
Moved to Fort Worth: 2015
Family: Chauncey, husband; Eli, son, 13; Eden, daughter, 11, Elle, daughter, 8; Ferdinand and Bruno, English bulldogs, and Snoh, French bulldog.
Education: Midwestern State University, B.S. in biology, UT-Southwestern, MD 2006, Emergency Medicine Residency 2009.
Work experience: Founder and chief strategist, Community Flourish Consulting, LLC (2022-present); assistant dean for student affairs at Texas Christian University School of Medicine (2017-2022); attending physician, emergency physician, Emergency Medicine Consultants (2009-2017); Biology instructor, Townview Magnet Center High School (2001 -2002).
Volunteer experience: Vice chair and chair-elect, foundation, Young Women’s Leadership Academy (2021-current); board member and chair of the governance committee, Young Women’s Leadership Academy; member of programs and services committee, Young Women’s Leadership Academy (2018-2020); staff writer, Madeworthy Magazine (2017-current)
First job: Busing tables at the Officer’s Club at Randolph AFB
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: As a leader, your job is to listen and remove barriers for your team to shine.
Best advice ever received: Walk and do not run to the emergency. Take the time to clear your mind and calculate your approach before you walk in.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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