Susan Puumala, Ph.D., an epidemiologist, has joined HDR as Senior Researcher for HDR's healthcare, education, science and technology consulting practice. Her responsibilities include working with HDR’s research team to develop studies that investigate how design affects outcomes such as health, wellness, satisfaction and productivity.

Coming from the field of public health, Puumala is passionate about improving lives through research. The field of epidemiology, she said, has for many years focused on how to design the best research studies where a randomized design isn't possible. By applying those methods to design, she hopes to obtain solid answers to predict what will work best and have the greatest impact on health and wellness, and other outcomes that our clients and our communities care about.

“We need to be able to test theories and questions in a rigorous way to find the best ways forward, whether we are interested in a new cancer prevention option or in a new design strategy to help surgical patients heal faster,” Puumala said. “Buildings matter; environment matters and can really be used to help improve health in hospitals, clinics, learning environments, workplaces and communities. The work being done at HDR is very consequential and will have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

For the past 17 years, Puumala has conducted biomedical and epidemiological research as a statistician/methodologist and epidemiologist. She holds a Master of Science degree in statistics from Iowa State University, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She has published over 70 research manuscripts, including research on the comparability and representativeness of control groups in a case-control study of infant leukemia, and has been successful in obtaining grant funding through various sources, including the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, Puumala served as director of the methodology core of the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health for over three years and helped academics and community members develop grant proposal and research projects. For seven years, she was a member of Sanford Health’s Institutional Review Board and helped assess research studies to ensure that research participants were protected.

“At HDR, we are very serious about generating rigorous research on the built environment’s effects on people, and Susan is here to help continue to take our research capabilities forward,” said Jeri Brittin, HDR's director of research. “Her expertise in the public health field and her experience with several major institutions, as well as her problem solving skills and ability to apply new methods and minimize bias, will enhance HDR designs’ impacts on human outcomes across all building typologies.”