NIHD History

In 2005, Debbie Gregory, a registered nurse, returned to school to study interior design and pursue a love for space planning and design. While studying programming, schematic design, and then researching and designing for healthcare projects, the chasm of understanding between the two fields became particularly apparent to her. She wondered, "Is anyone asking the nurses about their opinions on the design and function of their work environments?” and began investigating.

To her surprise, there was little data from the nursing community. In fact, the only research she found was in the emerging field of evidence-based design. Impressed with this concept, she felt strongly that nurses could be contributing significantly to research and design decisions. Debbie contacted her Vanderbilt Nursing School colleague, Laura Hayes. Together they began researching healthcare design and determining how nurses can contribute as part of the design team. At a Healthcare Design Conference in 2005, they slipped a note to a speaker asking him to announce an impromptu meeting for nurses in the audience. From those 10 nurses who showed up and responded to a quick survey created on the spot, the database of nurses in healthcare design was born.

The conference began the challenge of discovery to determine where the nurse fits in to the design process and what role the nurse should contribute as a part of the design team. As a design intern attending end user meetings, one role was immediately obvious to Debbie: a nurse could be the interpreter between the two professions, both literally to translate professional terms (to a nurse, ADA Guidelines would suggest the American Diabetic Association’s recommended diet) and to bridge the culture and communication gaps. More importantly, Debbie realized she could help designers pose the right questions -- such as a facility’s local demographic, its specific nursing population and nursing care model, and its goals for growth -- all critical to achieving successful facilities.

Laura and Debbie officially launched the Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design (NIHD) in 2010. As a not-for-profit association, it is dedicated to educating and inspiring nurse leaders about their role in healthcare design and construction. The organization provides tools and research, peer education and mentoring, and a connection to other members. Nurses from around the world contacted NIHD, eager to be a part of designing clinical spaces. On the design side, architects, contractors, facility managers, hospital administrators and clinicians have become involved and want to impact this new collaborative relationship that will facilitate trust, respect, shared goals, improved clinical work environments and ultimately patient outcomes. Many in the design community are now investing to place clinicians on their staff to educate and facilitate between their staff and their clients. This has given nurses a voice and an advocate. They serve as a constant reminder to consider the end user perspective when designing a space. Healthcare systems are placing nurses within the facility planning department to be an "owner’s rep” and ensure the design intent meets the corporate mission. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a future design collaborative that is patient and end-user centered.

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