Johns Hopkins Medical Center All Childrens Hospital and Research Facility

Design Inspiration for Health Sciences & Medical Education

Our recent Virtual Adaptations panel discussion brought together academic leaders to discuss the latest in health sciences and medical education. Although the speakers work for and with institutions that are scattered across the globe, the conversation made it clear that all face similar challenges when it comes to educating the next generation of learners, who, after withstanding the pandemic, might have changed expectations of what working in healthcare entails and the attributes that make returning to campus worthwhile.  

Throughout the conversation, speakers revealed unique approaches and ideas for integrating what today's students need the most — in-person campus connectivity, interprofessional learning, and wellness-driven programs. Read on for a glimpse into the ideas shared and design inspiration from our portfolio that supports the topics at hand. 

Meet the Speakers

  • Professor Cathal Kelly, Vice Chancellor & CEO/Registrar of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland
  •  Dr. Elizabeth Beam, Associate Professor at the UNMC College of Nursing
  •  Valerie P. Weil, MD, Strategy Professional and Former President of the University of Sciences in Philadelphia

Getting Students on Campus 

Countering the remote-work mindset is a challenge for all institutions. "We have to recognize the limitation of technology, especially in healthcare, where personal interaction and touch are so critical," said Valerie, pointing out one disadvantage of remote learning — the inability to engage in spontaneous, "water cooler" conversations that add a necessary layer of connection to the educational process. The curriculum at Cooper School of Medicine shifted lectures from 6 hours per day to 5 hours per week and replaced those hours with group learning and problem-based learning encounters.  

Valerie was spot on in saying, "Students need different kinds of spaces to optimize their learning." 

Institutions that provide access to learning environments that cannot be replicated at home will be more successful at getting students on campus. Beth urges designers to remember balance in their designs, "We do still have some content that has to be delivered in big classrooms, and as we bolster class sizes, we have to make sure our spaces are as flexible as possible…we may plan for one thing, and then three or four years down the line realize we need something else, it's a huge advantage to have flexible spaces that can change as needs evolve." Speakers agreed on the importance of including various learning spaces in health education facilities, from large lecture halls to technology-infused classrooms for team-based learning and smaller classrooms for group and individual study.

Creating Interprofessional Hubs in Simulation 

Scheduling interprofessional learning remains a challenge for most. All agreed that interprofessional learning is best when layered into the curriculum instead of being reserved for one big interprofessional day. Some institutions are getting creative and doing amazing things by building relationships and networking resources. While most students' interprofessional experiences come during clinical placements in later years of medical training, at Cooper, students start in clinics their first year with attending physicians and pharmacy students.  

With simulation, students don't have to wait for clinical placements to gain interprofessional experiences. RCSI has found bringing different groups together in simulation to be an effective and powerful way to increase interprofessional learning on campus. 

"There's a real opportunity for consortium building in simulation. The facilities are so expensive to build and often under-utilized…being able to share funding and the use of space for these costly technologies would be a way to help manage it," noted Valerie. 

Supporting Student Wellness 

This past year saw an 11% decline in medical school applications in the U.S. and the ending of 20 years of enrollment growth for undergraduate nursing programs. With the pandemic bringing the worst-case scenario working conditions for health professionals to light, these statistics reflect Cathal's poignant statement, "I don't know a country that doesn't have a health system in crisis…we have an obligation to support these students to flourish and thrive in what can be a very difficult healthcare environment."

A multi-faceted approach is required to support students' academic journey and equip them for their professional careers. At the University of Nebraska, this includes in-person engagement, academic success coaching, mental health support, and training for safety for healthcare professionals. Beth stated, "If you feel safe in what you are doing, it is more likely that you will stay at work."

Support can also take the form of wellness as institutions realize that "there are far more useful life skills for health professionals to learn than how to use and handle a stethoscope," as Cathal said. For example, RCSI's Lifestyle Medicine certificate program teaches students about the scientific importance of sleep, exercise, nutrition, social connectivity, avoidance of addictive behavior, stress management and disease prevention. Similarly, their Healthy Campus Initiative encourages students and staff to view exercise as medicine, measuring the initiative's success by how many people on campus engage in some form of positive physical activity. 

While RCSI has taken an initiative-based approach to wellness, it can also be accomplished more passively by ensuring students are aware of and have access to wellness facilities on campus or, better yet, in the buildings where they spend the most time. 

As someone who has dedicated my career to healthcare – first as a nurse — and now as a designer — this critical point in healthcare heightens my determination to design environments that support interactive learning experiences, team-based encounters, and student well-being. While design alone cannot solve these challenges, it can provide the framework for institutions to engage and prepare the next generation of care providers.  

Brenda Smith
Health Principal