December 20, 2022

History Walls and Timeline Displays

Honoring the deeply rooted connection between hospitals and their communities

Hospitals and Healthcare Systems have deep roots in their community. Most of us aren’t 100 years old and therefore haven’t witnessed the evolution of our health care from the days of Doc Jones or the Prairie Midwife, which we might even have regarded wistfully. However, history walls and timeline displays become the vehicle for a journey back to those times via pictures, videos, and artifacts. These visual representations better connect us to the patient experiences that spurred the building of care centers and the physicians, specialists, nurses, and layers of support that are the hallmarks of our medical system.

The stories that describe what medical care was like prior to trauma centers, emergency rooms, advanced imaging equipment, and other modern-day advancements provide contrast with and build appreciation for what we have. It took an all-out community push to get us here, and these visuals bear witness to the fact that the hospital and community are intertwined. Our current level of medical care stands on the shoulders of ongoing research, discovery, and practice – avenues to new training, diagnoses, procedures, instruments, and medical care that doesn’t have to wait for the livery to hitch up the horses. Connecting your hospital’s and staff’s contributions builds local pride and confidence in the hospital’s medical expertise.  

And while history displays aren’t donor recognition, they do recognize the community’s central role in supporting this mission: Developing medical capacity and expertise. They are seen and visited while waiting to see friends and loved ones receiving care. The association a viewer makes between the content and import of a history wall elevates the stature of the medical center, hospital, or health system by connecting the viewer to its participation in and commitment to its community over a long period of time. Visuals and medical artifacts tell the story of a community that required better care, supported its establishment, its improvement over time, then grew and prospered as a direct result. It is a story of giving back as well, and a reciprocal connection must be made. This is the story of our community, not just our hospital.

Where To Begin - The Process of Building a History Wall

Creating a history wall from scratch will mean first building a timeline. Once you’ve bracketed your endpoints, you can then find historical milestones for both the community and your hospital. On the surface, they may seem different, but digging deeper will allow synchronous connections to emerge. Emergencies, whether caused by nature, like a hurricane or of human origins, like a major fire, require a high-level medical response. These events may not have been happy ones, but the medical response promotes healing and underpins the confidence to rebuild.

“Sometimes, disaster can inspire ingenuity.”
Michael Arden, American Actor

Research and discovery should be key plot points on your timeline as well. Your dedicated team of lab technicians, researchers, nursing staff, physicians, and the hospital system as a whole, were essential to the process.

Here are some examples of these types of milestones to include in your timeline.

• Profiles of doctors, nurses, or research teams and their roles in significant discoveries or breakthroughs

• Technological advances used to improve the quality of care offered to your community

• Expansion and diversification of services within the hospital

Playing off people’s fascination with and affinity for museums, incorporating artifacts as part of a history wall, provides insight into the importance of community support for medical practice innovation. Display of the actual instrument is tangible and immediate, but sometimes space only allows for a photo. Even though you have an Iron Lung from the 1930s, it may not be practical to allocate half your space for it to be displayed. Photos and visual storytelling will better bring it into focus and make it especially relevant, given our use of modern ventilators.

Here are two project examples where we seamlessly incorporated artifact cases into history walls and timeline displays.

Sharp Health Chula Vista Medical Center in San Diego County achieves a balance using museum-quality illuminated artifact cases combined with graphic and glass communication panels. This display spans 120 feet at the Medical Center’s entry, a place of honor and purposeful in its intent to connect.

The Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans also displays artifacts and reinforces their use with lifesize period photos and graphics. This 80’ display lives in the main corridor connecting the Medical Center’s entry and the various centers of excellence, a high-traffic area with plenty of room to stop and explore.

Time After Time

Time stamps can be incorporated subtly into a display or, like our standard view of time, take on a linear aspect that correlates with events top and bottom. The Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center display takes this approach in a display that combines historical graphics and a timeline with four generations of giving to the two major hospitals that were combined when it was built. The color-coded glass incorporates the design aspect created to distinguish these eras – a depth of content that will reward anyone who spends the time to find it. However, for the casual passerby, the vibrant colors represent the four seasons and the passage of time.

Both subtle and linear time references can be engaging, and making them so is critical to their long-term success. Viewers engage with these displays in many different ways. We can loosely categorize into three main groups, The Studiers, The Strollers, and The Streakers. Many Studiers will try to get to everything right away, but The Strollers need to see the content well enough to read it a section at a time. The Streakers present the challenge of needing to be teased with content digestible in small amounts, encouraging them to return for more.

Incorporating Digital

Including a digital display in your history wall and timeline can provide a centerpiece for content easily absorbed by the viewer accustomed to receiving information in the digital age. Add to that supporting shadow-boxed artifacts, photos, and graphics to expand upon the community-hospital evolution in ways that glowing pixels simply cannot capture. This combination of approaches creates interest and provides an avenue for easy digital updates with PDG’s specially tailored CMS, Appellō.

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
Pearl S. Buck, American Novelist

Finally, as we complete our beautifully conceived history wall, we’re confronted with the reality that the present and future hold their own reverential moments. The community’s continued generosity will help the health system expand and provide more lifesaving treatments, cutting-edge research, and technologies. Of course, we’ve planned for that. The ability to update graphics and artifacts within the framework of a history wall or timeline display – or maybe even site it where there is room for expansion – will pay dividends in ongoing connection with the community and operational efficiency.

We hope this overview has been helpful, but we realize it isn’t a template you can use to fill in the blanks and proceed to production. Your project will present its own requirements, which we will gladly discuss with you. No matter what stage your donor recognition project is in, PDG is here to help. Contact us today.

Incorporate a History Wall Into Your Donor Recognition

Share your organization's story and its connection to the community, highlighting key milestones made along the way. Talk with us about incorporating a history wall into your donor recognition.

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