One trend that the healthcare design industry has adopted into a full-blown essential (if not an official Best Practice) over the last decade is the idea that consulting with a multidisciplinary team of end users--including medical staff--can only lead to better results. But do designers pay enough attention to the voices of the nursing staff?

Not to say that nurses aren't consulted at all. But often, because of perceived status--financial, political, or otherwise--the voice of the nurse in the design process may not take its proper place in the hierarchy. After all, nurses interact with patients and the space itself more than anyone else--who would offer better advice on efficient design and be more important to please?

Let’s take a look at some nursing numbers, courtesy of U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration's National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses.The U.S. has 3.1 million licensed RNs. The profession has grown by 5.3 percent since 2004, a net growth of more than 150,000 RNs. Nearly 450,000 RNs, 14.5 percent of the RN population, received their first U.S. license after 2003. The average age of employed RNs is 45.5.The proportion of RNs under the age of 40 has recently increased for the first time since 1980, to 29.5 percent.

Those stats tell us a few things for certain, and a great many other things that we can speculate on. In the latter category, I think it is fair to assume that the average nurse has been working for a fair number of years and is likely used to the way things work at his or her facility—where things are located, how workloads are divided, and so on. If you’re not consulting your nurses on how a new facility should look, feel, and operate—especially if the facility they are moving from is an older building that they are used to working in—there is a very real possibility that your nurses will simply adapt your new space into a form they feel comfortable with (meaning: all those great things you planned will just go out the window.)  

The nursing staff may not know architecture, but they sure know how to do their jobs, and they can and likely will tell you how a space should function to help them do that. Use their deep knowledge to your benefit and your designs will likely function as you planned them; ignore them at your own peril.