Statistics show that professional caregivers are feeling burnt out. They carry heavy workloads, take few breaks (if any), and are emotionally invested in the health of their patients. In addition to this, many suffer injury on the job.

A recent survey by Nurture by Steelcase found that nearly half of the professional caregivers surveyed have been injured at least once while on the job. Studies also repeatedly show that stress is one of the leading reasons caregivers leave their jobs.

These issues, which are often overlooked, present designers with a significant opportunity to impact the caregiver experience. While the environment is certainly not the only factor that leads to burnout, studies do show that a supportive work environment can influence staff well-being, productivity, and satisfaction.

This past August, I completed my thesis at Florida State University and also conducted research as the American Association of Healthcare Interior Designers and Nurture fellowship student.

The research study portion examined how architecture, lighting, color, artwork, nature, and water impact caregivers. It involved 16 hours of observation and six interviews at a community cancer center.

The results revealed several key insights that can easily be translated into design solutions and potentially have some significant positive impacts on caregivers’ overall well-being.

The first solution is to shorten walking distances. The study found that caregivers were dissatisfied with walking long distances for charts, supplies, or to greet patients. They were primarily concerned for their cancer patients, who generally don’t have a great deal of energy.

Other concerns regarded the time wasted in walking as well as their own well-being. One nurse said, “When you walk up and down [that hallway] 30 times a day, it’s just too much.”

Within the design portion of my thesis, I presented several solutions to this challenge. For instance, in the radiation clinic, I made sure the nurses’ station had its own closet and was placed adjacent to the clinic entry and the exam rooms. The chemotherapy unit was also designed to minimize walking distances, with several nurses’ stations placed in specific locations to create an orderly circular traffic flow.

Another design solution realized from this research is to create break rooms that are conducive to relaxation.

Observations revealed that most caregivers take one break per day—their 30-minute lunch break. Because break room crowding is an issue, several caregivers eat lunch later in the day or eat in their cars. The study also showed that buffet-style meals are donated from pharmaceutical reps several times a month—many of the caregivers participate in these meals, which crowds the break rooms even more.

Additionally, I found that caregivers are greatly impacted by artwork selections, with those depicting local scenery being most preferred.

The solution presented in my thesis for this particular finding was the creation of a kitchenette with multiple seating types and local art on the walls. An island serves as a space divider but also as a surface where food could be served. Overall, the space offers privacy from patients and a space for caregivers to relax and recharge during their short time of rest.

There are huge shifts happening in healthcare, and design can play an instrumental role in helping to bring about the positive change all parties are looking for. With caregivers standing in the frontline, their well-being also needs to be taken seriously. Designers should consider including staffers in the design process, as their expertise can help make fact-based design decisions that bring about environments more conducive to the well-being of all.