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Ideas / Research & Design / 5.30.2019

Best Practices in Nursing School Design: Culture of Well-Being

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Ayers Saint Gross designs top-tier spaces to support educating nurses equipped to handle the future as healthcare delivery systems continue to transform. This two-part series dives into the influences that are changing the way nursing students learn and the way nursing faculty teach. Read Part 1. 

Culture of Well-Being 

Perhaps more than any other building type, schools of nursing and allied health have the special ability to promote health literacy and reflect the core values of their programs and the profession through building design and architecture. As healthcare delivery systems focus more on preventative approaches to health, lifestyle, and behavior, the design of the built environment should exemplify core values and be mindful of its impact on human health and wellness. Projects that want to advance healthy building strategies can seek WELL Certification to improve the health and well-being of its occupants. 

Healthy building strategies that engage the mind and body include: incorporating biophilia through exposure to nature, activating interior circulation with prominent staircases, utilizing ergonomic and kinesthetic furniture to encourage occupant comfort, and addressing environmental needs for air, water, nourishment, and light. For example, designing flexible classrooms or exterior plazas to host fitness, wellness, or interprofessional events could be showcased as part of the building and professional outreach. Access to green spaces and natural light create healthier work and learning spaces for students, faculty, and staff. These design features become popular congregation spots, supporting a lively and collaborative culture. 

The Duke University Interprofessional Education Center (designed by Ayers Saint Gross) includes a flexible seminar and wellness space for a variety of student activities. The room functions as a large seminar room for instruction, two small conference rooms for group meetings, or as a wellness hub for fitness and community outreach events. In the same vicinity, reservable low-speed treadmill workstations overlooking a landscaped garden offers active furnishings to reduce the time faculty and students spend seated. Ergonomic furniture selection for both office and study areas is another important way that universities are promoting wellness. 

View of Courtyard and Phase II of the Duke University School of Nursing
A flexible learning space in the Duke Health Interprofessional Education Center
A flexible learning space in the Duke Health Interprofessional Education Center
Interior view of treadmill workstations at Duke University Interprofessional Education Center.
Low-speed treadmill workstations support wellness at Duke University

This type of flexibility in spaces has already proved successful at the University of West Georgia School of Nursing. A flexible seminar room off the building’s commons was designed as both a classroom and a yoga studio, utilizing an oversized barn-style door to allow overflow into the public spaces during a large wellness event.

Just as important, landscaped outdoor study areas provide meditative environments to support the well-being of students who will soon be supporting the well-being of so many others.

Interior view of flexible space at the University of West Georgia School of Nursing being used...
Flexible, multipurpose space at the University of West Georgia
Interior view of flexible space at the University of West Georgia School of Nursing being used...
Flexible, multipurpose space at the University of West Georgia
Exterior view of outdoor meditative space at the University of West Georgia School of Nursing featuring...

The culture of wellness in nursing and allied health extends beyond the school walls. Increasingly, schools want to be engaged in community health and gear curricula towards the regions they serve. This approach better prepares the workforce for local healthcare cases they will face in their careers. Whether it’s reaching patients in remote areas, screening clinics for a disease that’s especially prevalent in the community, or providing care at the student health clinic, it is a best practice of clinical education to consider these spaces.

Interior view of students and instructors using optometry equipment at the University of Pikeville...

Community integration was embedded in the programming and mission of the recently launched Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville Health Professions Education Building(HPEB). The school is in eastern Kentucky, a region with one of the highest rates of preventable blindness in the country. The HPEB includes a flexible classroom, assembly space, student lounge, study and meeting spaces, faculty offices, clinical skills labs, and an extensive primary care clinic with specialty operatory equipment. The project fulfills the university’s mission of service and defines the standard for excellence in optometric education and vision care in an area with an acute need.

Looking to the future, exciting developments in nursing education will broaden the impacts of community engagement and wellness. Interprofessional and cross-disciplinary education that engages other allied health disciplines and university majors like engineering can create dynamic teams to solve complex issues. Assistive technology and robotic solutions are continuing to advance healthcare. The built environment must support these developments with makerspaces and cross-disciplinary education labs to enable collaborations with engineering programs.

Understanding the latest technology and methodologies is crucial for students. Practical applications are seen in dementia care, where technology is facilitating seniors to live independently longer. To allow for easy monitoring, in-home devices record and send data about daily patterns to caregivers. Assistive devices are being developed to facilitate timely reminders for medication, locate items, or can trigger a comforting audio recording of a family member. Telepresence robots and companion robots can help improve mood or quality of life for people with dementia, to serve patients in a health crisis, and are finding their way into simulation-based education as a tool to practice communication and better prepare students for a career in nursing. Among the spaces that will be
located in the Duke University Physical Therapy / School of Nursing Education Building is the new Health Innovation Lab, which will provide for this interdisciplinary innovation and education.

As nursing schools plan for future curricula and building projects, Ayers Saint Gross will continue to lead the ways architecture can and should support the efforts of students, faculty, and staff to prepare the next generation of nurses for their careers. Educating highly qualified nurses and healthcare professionals fulfills a critical need, and well-designed spaces help meet this challenge. We look forward to seeing what the future holds, and working to create it.

Laura White, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP is an associate principal based out of the Baltimore office.

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