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Celebrating the Year of the Nurse: Impacting hospital design as clinical consultants

February 20, 2020

By Donna Rothwell

Nurses are true subject-matter experts, and their expertise helps create healthcare facilities that are more than just buildings

When you think nurses, it’s likely Florence Nightingale is one of the first to come to mind. Her name has become synonymous with this revered profession—and for good reason. She established the principles of modern nursing and hospital sanitation, founded the first nursing school in 1860 in London, and wrote more than 200 books and papers. Florence was the first woman admitted to the Royal Statistical Society for her pioneering work in statistical infographics related to causes of mortality of British Soldiers in the Crimean War. The year 2020 marks Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday and has been designated the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization.

Nurses find their calling for many reasons—mine was very personal.

When I was 6 years old, my mother was hospitalized with pleurisy so severe she almost died. During her time in the hospital, I was the recipient of first-hand care and compassion shown by the nursing staff. In the early 1960s, children were not permitted to visit patients. However, the nurses understood the severity of my mother’s illness and the comfort it would bring to see her four children. They made an exception to the rule—a heartfelt gesture appreciated by us all. I knew that nursing was the path for me.

My nursing career took me to many facilities, through various roles, and at the service of countless patients. I started at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Neonatal ICU in Toronto, Ontario, moving to St. Catharines General Hospital as the educator, director of their Women’s and Babies Program. Following a merger to become part of the Niagara Health System, my new role was chief nursing and professional practice officer. In 2009, I took on the position of site director for the St. Catharines site, which was Ontario’s first design-build-finance-maintain (DBFM) hospital. On this project, I was first introduced to Stantec. The Stantec team was instrumental in establishing a successful capital and operational readiness planning strategy as we prepared to move into our new hospital.

That introduction to the partnership between healthcare providers and designers offered me a new career path.

That introduction to the partnership between healthcare providers and designers offered a new career path.

Nursing is truly a rewarding profession. Caring for patients and families in their most vulnerable moments is a privilege. The environment in which we care for patients and families is incredibly important, which is why I chose to redefine my career path. As nurses, we can influence the design of facilities from our unique, firsthand understanding of care needs, workflow processes, and the importance for healthcare professionals to have a safe and therapeutic work environment to provide extraordinary care.

With my background, I work closely with the design project team as well as the end users, stakeholders, and hospital staff. In this unique role, I bridge the education and understanding gap between clinicians and hospital administrators with the Stantec designers. We identify the barriers that constrain capacity through a detailed analysis of internal processes and patient-flow patterns to facilitate efficient design. The result is a functional design that takes into consideration the necessary clinical phases and functions.

I am not a designer. I am a clinical consultant and subject-matter expert with knowledge of the intricacies of internal processes that would address client-specific challenges. This collaboration gives us clinical best practices and workflows that support and transfer into the design.

Healthcare design has seen tremendous value in having subject-matter experts like nurses who have operational experience and expertise collaborating on design. Our healthcare organizations are demanding clinical consulting because exemplary patient and family care requires more than just a building. Having all key stakeholders at the table to ensure our clients receive the best information to make informed decisions is an imperative—allowing patient care to lead design. I’m sure Florence Nightingale would approve.

  • Donna Rothwell

    As a project manager, Donna has guided many healthcare organizations through extensive change and transitions at all levels.

    Contact Donna
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