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Did you know that National Nurses Week 2016 starts today?

During the next seven days, the American Nurses Association wants us to celebrate the important role nurses play in healthcare. Which is a good thing to do.

But all this celebrating won't prevent nurse burnout, which has been labeled as a "public health crisis" by the media recently.

Without a doubt, the main cause of nurse burnout is stress.  The stress that comes from poor leadership and a constantly changing healthcare system. And also the stress that comes from watching others suffer, so-called "compassion fatigue."

But stress can also come from the physical environment of the workplace itself.  So, in the spirit of National Nurse Week, here are 4 ways to help prevent nurse burnout through hospital facility design:

1.  Reduce Noise

No-brainer design strategies include using sound-absorbing materials on floors, ceilings, and walls. Also, pay attention to the location of noisy equipment, such as ice machines, on the unit.

2. Reduce Steps

Decentralized nursing units are the answer to this. But what if you're stuck with an old linear unit with the nurse station in the middle? Look at ways to reduce "hunting and gathering" by locating supplies closer to where nurses need them.

3. Support Office Work

Ergonomic office chairs, proper desk and keyboard heights, and adequate lighting for the task at hand are essential to do charting and other computer work. Most nurses probably want to sit to do these tasks, but height-adjustable desks and stand up workstations have been found to have positive benefits. Also, how many times are too many nurses stuffed into too small a workspace?

4. Provide Areas of Respite

Incorporate gardens, walking paths, and other outdoor spaces into the building and landscape design. As well as staff break rooms that aren't just glorified locker rooms.

Advance for Nurses reported last month that Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, in Zion, Ill., has created "renewal rooms" for nurses -- complete with yoga mats, a massage chair, tabletop waterfall, and relaxing CDs.  Amenities are great in staff break areas, but the location and design of the space itself are also important.

I say this because I was only able to find one image of the renewal room online and it looked pretty plain compared to the spacious, light-filled, comfortably furnished patient and family lounges shown in the virtual tour of Midwestern's new inpatient tower. But I love the idea of a renewal room for nurses.

More on Nurse Burnout

Want to know more about the causes of nurse burnout and why it's a public health crisis?  Read Marty Stempniak's recent articles in Hospitals & Health Networks:

Nurse Burnout is a 'Public Health Crisis,' and Here are Innovative Ways Hospitals are Addressing It

More on the Nurse Burnout 'Public Health Crisis' That's Gripping the Field

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Leave a comment

Derek Parker

8 years ago

This is an enormously important topic. For five years my youngest daughter, an RN, and I gave a course on design, based mostly on material from the Center for Health Design, for the graduate nursing students at UCSF. We were trying to empower them to insist on built environmental interventions to aid them in their most important work. The response we got was very encouraging. Here is one of many examples written by the students.
Message no. 124
Posted by CASSANDRE REEVES on Wednesday, May 2, 2007 4:33pm
Subject: May 2nd - Evidence Based Design

Mr. Parker's lecture was wonderful and really allowed me to acknowledge something that
is quite obvious, but often overlooked....your environment matters. When we first
stepped into Lucille Packard this quarter I turned to one of my classmates and said "wow,
this is the nicest hospital we've been in!" The design is wonderful with all of the solarium areas for family and staff, the hardwood floors and the trianglular nursing stations. But it goes beyond that. On the first day I had to ask my self, "where am I?", because at 3 o'clock on the dot a woman started playing the harp and two gentlemen pushed a cart onto the unit with tea and pasteries. WOW. The patients and nurses both love it! I am not saying I need tea time everyday, but I think it makes the patients and nurses feel like they are important. On the opposite side of that spectrum, some of us have been starting to do interviews, and I am sure that I am not alone in the experience of walking on a unit for an interview that was a little too dark, a little too cluttered, with a med room in a tiny corner miles away from patient rooms, and just a little run down. The
environment means so much to patient care and to our personal nursing experiences. I
am so glad that hospitals of the future will have people like Mr. Parker trying to design a healthy experience for everyone!"

Regina Kennedy

8 years ago

Sara, I'd add access to natural lighting somewhere near the top of your list. The main reason is regulating circadian rhythm.
Nurses commonly work shifts, and night shifts are hard on sleeping patterns. Doing night shifts is often associated with insomnia and a host of physical and mental health issues. Those only on day shifts can still have poor access to daylight due to remaining in inner rooms and corridors all day.
Lower on the list, with less supporting evidence, would be a layout that helps improve interactions and communications between nurses and between nurses and physicians. That is about reducing error and improving on the job mentoring. But more research is needed.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Good additions, Regina! Access to nature and natural light is important to nurses as well as patients.

Andrew Arnott

8 years ago

Sara, additionally what about the health of the environment (the air). Correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that nurses have one of the highest percentages of asthma rates in any vocation? You'd have to ask why? It must be the environment they are subjected too?

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Air quality is definitely important, Andrew. Thanks for pointing that out. I'm not sure of the asthma rates of nurses. Will have to research that!

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What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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