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6 tips for designing allied health education facilities

March 21, 2024

By Alex Wing

Are you designing a new health education science facility? Have you considered industry partners?

The healthcare industry is booming. Among those most in demand: allied health professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that healthcare occupations are expected to grow 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all careers.

Allied health is an umbrella term that covers many healthcare roles. These include physical and occupational therapy assistants, medical assistants, and nurses. These careers offer job security, good pay, and the opportunity to make a positive impact.

These roles require specialized education and training. The training needs to adapt to the ever-changing healthcare industry. And it should provide a hands-on learning environment for the providers of the future. 

The Sciences & Engineering Center and The Commons at West Chester University in Pennsylvania serves as a living-learning environment for the next generation of scientists, physicians, nutritionists, and others.

As designers, we can support this thriving profession. How? It’s critical to offer hands-on, collective learning spaces where allied health students can get the education, training, and qualifications relevant to the duties of their jobs.

Here are six ideas to consider when designing health science education facilities that will train these in-demand allied health professionals.

1. Create health education spaces that encourage inclusive and collaborative learning

It’s imperative for allied health students to learn outside the formal environments and labs. Inclusive and collaborative spaces are part of the answer.

Health science education depends on the creation of a community. It’s really the foundation of the health sciences. This connection comes from reflecting on personal experiences in clinical settings, comparing notes from real-world scenarios, or developing a deeper understanding of how specialists can come together to improve outcomes.

The Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences is an excellent example of a design to support collaboration. We designed it with space for team rooms, open lounge areas, and flexible meeting spaces capable of accommodating large groups for ceremonies and social gatherings. A variety of venues allows students varying scales of interaction and levels of privacy for the important work that must take place outside of formal learning settings.

2. Provide settings that model an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to wellness

As patient care evolves, so must the places where people learn to become caregivers. More and more, care models focus on the relationships between human health and well-being at every stage of treatment.

The Louisiana State University’s Medical Education & Innovation Center provides spaces that support our need for family, community, solace, and vigor. It helps nurture the connections between mind, body, and spirit. Buildings can help establish healthy habits while supporting lessons about patient-centered care. Through spaces that embrace the natural world, inspire reflection, or encourage walking and movement as part of a social activity, buildings are a powerful tool.

When designing for allied health education it’s important to provide settings that model an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to wellness. For example, the exterior design of the Louisiana State University Medical Education & Innovation Center offers an outdoor setting for instruction.

3. Incorporate sustainable strategies at every stage of the design

Buildings can be teaching tools themselves. They encourage awareness of the impact our physical environment has on both health and culture. Design can save energy, reduce carbon footprint and climate impacts, and provide occupants with clean air and access to daylight and views.

The Central Michigan University Biosciences Building is such a place. Sustainable design elements—green walls, natural ventilation, and thoughtful landscapes—reduce environmental impacts and offer health benefits. Building systems provide ample fresh air while conserving energy. They also allow local control of environmental conditions and offer comfort to those using the building.

4. Simulate real-world health facilities needs

Model environments are key. They provide the resources to meet rigorous program accreditation requirements and also allow for increased enrollment. These models reduce the burden on clinical settings yet still create “real-world” experiences. These flexible learning environments adapt to a wide range of teaching methods and simulation environments that stage an entire health facility setting.

Hallways can become break-out spaces. These serve instructional needs while modeling a suite of spaces in a hospital or clinic. Thoughtful planning allows the use of entire areas of a building to simulate mass-casualty events or provide areas dedicated to each step in the continuum of care. For example, Harrisburg University – UPMC Health Sciences Tower simulates the intake, evaluation, treatment, recovery, and discharge components of a provider visit to create a realistic training experience.

The Harrisburg University – UPMC Health Sciences Tower simulates the intake, evaluation, treatment, recovery, and discharge components of a provider visit. It creates a realistic training experience for allied health students.

5. Integration of state-of-the-art health education technology   

The best model spaces allow real-time control and monitoring. Systems are integrated with mannequins or use lower-cost video cameras to record what happens in an anatomy lab or physical therapy suite.

These systems are evolving and require flexible health education spaces. This allows for regular updates to the technology. Accompanied by rooms designed to support the review and analysis of both real-time and recorded data, they provide opportunities for immediate feedback. They also provide space for the review of and reflection on the effectiveness of student actions in a safe environment.

6. Leverage partnerships and local industry to boost allied health

As stated, we have a rising demand for allied health providers. The solution? A collaborative effort from educators, students, and the healthcare systems. 

These systems are evolving and require flexible health education spaces. This allows for regular updates to the technology.

Our teams often work with multiple industry partners in the design process. These partners can help provide what schools and students need. For example, they can provide details of local hospital layouts. And, perhaps, they can donate equipment to enhance training. Both of these contributions will help create a more realistic experience. This gives the partners a personal stake in the educational programs that produce caregivers for their community.

Integrating expertise means together we are greater than the sum of our parts

Embracing these six points creates a design that serves both the specific needs of the school and trains allied health professionals. It puts the school, students, and communities in a better place.

The demand for allied health providers requires collaboration between all systems. Our teams often engage multiple industry partners during this process—whether it’s for specifying state-of-the-art donated equipment or in specifying exact recreations of headwall arrangements used by local hospitals.

The result is the creation of a facility that serves both specific institutional needs and the broader needs of a community.

  • Alex Wing

    A principal and education sector leader, Alex plans and designs academic facilities.

    Contact Alex
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