Space, Time, Movement, and Health Science Learning
Health science education embraces and adapts to new ways of learning that transcends disciplines and borders. Perhaps more than in any field, the members of the medical field work collaboratively across multiple disciplines. When in action, their work is an intricately choreographed composition, and their finely tuned technical skills are ready to take over at any minute should improvisation be required.
When DLR Group works with education leaders in this field, we emphasize how patients perceive their visits to medical facilities such as ERs, ORs, and clinics. Patients, like audience members at a performance, see and experience the whole, not the separate parts. Even in non-emergency situations, the success of their health care engagement depends upon a seamless continuity of distinct characters. For example, a nurse greets a patient downstage, guides them to their upstage exam room, and reviews the program taking vitals. Then a nurse practitioner enters stage right to conduct the exam and investigate the injury or medical concern. If warranted, the nurse practitioner writes a prescription that is sent on to a pharmacy, and then a pharmacist enters stage left to properly fill out the medication made available to the right patient, and so on.
DLR Group’s work in the health science field begins with this real world, patient-centered perspective. Our goal is to provide authentic learning environments that replicate the whirlwind setting in which student medical assistants, nurses, techs, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners will eventually perform. We start our process by choreographing the holistic environment and discuss how to model a seamless patient experience with health care educators. Then we hone in on specialty simulation environments that mimic an interdisciplinary health care service delivery model to better reflect health care today.
By simulating "real life" situations in "real life" spaces, we can maximize the highly collaborative nature of health care delivery, focus on the patient-centric point of view, and transform the design of learning environments. Both the big and small stuff matters, from an exam room layout to a simple detail, like the location of alcohol prep pads. The traditional academic design of repetitious spaces—mirror layout of doors, plumbing, power, and fixtures—although economical, is not always best. Considering education environment layouts that are replicas vs. mirrors optimizes rhythm and builds confidence in skills. In the end, we want to design environments that optimize students’ transition into their professional career.
In the recently opened Southeastern Community College (SCC) Health Occupations Building, we designed everything, even down to the restrooms, to be used as part of the learning experience. When not feeling well, a person’s first instinct is often to go to the bathroom. The bathrooms at SCC are laid out to enable emergency medical service students to practice the triage and safe extraction of a sick or injured patient from what can be a relatively confined space, transport their patient into a simulated emergency room, and even rehearse the transfer of patient care to a nurse. Seemingly simple design considerations, such as adjacencies and complimentary uses offer cost-effective and practical solutions for these types of interdisciplinary environments.
Designing health care learning environments is akin to choreography. Both leverage critical design factors of space, time and movement. Designing this way bridges disciplines and creates value for our client-educators, health care students, and patients of the future. The next time you are in a health care environment, see if you notice the choreography of movement and space.