Celebrating the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

The World Health Organization (W.H.O) has designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Over the next several months, we will celebrate nurses’ contribution to the healthcare profession through a series of conversations with some of the top nurses we have collaborated with while planning healthcare environments. We begin with HGA’s Kara Freihoefer, Director of Research, and Terri Zborowsky, Evidence-Based Design Researcher and Registered Nurse, who discuss the influence nurses have had on their professional and personal lives.

What inspires you about nurses’ work?

Terri Zborowsky: This reminds me of a time when we were doing nurse shadowing at an ICU unit. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride watching them work—knowing the important job they were doing. I was inspired by their dedication to their patients, by their care and compassion—whether attending directly with patients or communicating with family members without regard to themselves.

Kara Freihoefer: Nurses have certain qualities that enable them to work in a high-stress environment—selflessness and adaptability to different circumstances. Nurses will rally around each other to be where they need to be. They are adaptable in their skillsets and adaptable to their environment to provide high-quality care.

How do nurses influence the healthcare design process?

KF: They are the process. Nurses comprise of large percentage of the healthcare workforce. They are multi-tasking constantly because there is so much happening at once in a nursing unit. The design process focuses on the nurses’ workflow and efficiencies—they drive the design process.

TZ: Nurses use both sides of their brain in a way that other professions don’t. There is an art and science of nursing—intuitive knowledge coupled with skilled technical training. Florence Nightingale taught us that access to nature, cleanliness, and light impacts patients’ ability to heal—and we still operate with that understanding today. Nurses work in an intimate environment with patients. They intuitively see how the healthcare environment impacts patients and their own wellbeing. Part of our job as design researchers is to help bring that intuitive knowledge forward as we plan spaces that enable them to do their jobs.

What have you learned from nurses—professionally and personally?

KF: It puts my life in perspective when I want to pity myself. Look at what these nurses and medical staff are going through right now. They are going to war. Their jobs are multi-faceted. They must be nurturing and caring while having the professional background to succeed as a team.

TZ: I started my career as a nurse and that shapes my career today as a researcher. Nurses are the most trusted profession in the world. Now as an outsider looking in, I still feel a professional connection with nurses. Whenever I’m involved in a research project, nurses always say to me, “you are always a nurse.” It’s a sisterhood. I stay connected to many of the nurses I have worked with. It is very satisfying.

What message do you have for your nursing colleagues during this current health crisis?

TZ: While recently meeting with several other nurses now working in academia and research, we talked about how much anxiety we feel for nurses at the frontline. The distress among the three of us was strong, and we talked about how we could help frontline nurses. I understand what they are doing—caring for the sick, holding hands of people dying. Thank you, nothing more to say but thank you.

KF: I can’t imagine what they are experiencing right now. They are putting themselves at risk. We are all looking at the same science to help mitigate this disease. Our contribution as researchers is to follow-up this current crisis to make sure we are designing healthcare environments that enable them to do their best job possible. Thank you for being so selfless.