Interior Decorators Can Save Lives

interiordecorators

The other day, my mother-in-law told me about a friend’s daughter who’d left a nursing position at a local hospital to pursue her dream of being an interior decorator.  The girl’s family was shocked by the decision.  How could anyone leave a stable job where you could save lives to do something much less important, they wondered. Interestingly, though, there’s a link between healthcare workers and interior decorators – and it’s a tie that might make you think differently about how important creative, “non-essential” jobs might really be.

For example, in an insightful New York Times article, Dr. Pauline W. Chen writes about a friend whose husband chose to get cancer treatment from a different specialist and at a different hospital than the one she recommended. The choice wasn’t based on the doctor or hospital’s reputation, though; while the hospital where Dr. Chen worked hadn’t been renovated in years, and featured a chemotherapy area with chairs in rows and no privacy, she writes: “[t]he other hospital…had a brand new cancer center. Its lobby was decorated like a hotel, and the walls were painted in soothing colors. Doctors and nurses moved about noiselessly on floors covered with wall-to-wall carpeting, and the rooms used for chemotherapy were not only private but also large enough to hold family members.”

Décor and ambiance count in other areas of medicine, too, and this I know personally.  When I decided to get my prenatal care and (as much as it’s possible to plan something like this) give birth at a hospital near where I lived, most of my friends and family told me I should go somewhere else.  It wasn’t because the hospital had bad statistics as far as healthy births were concerned, but rather that it was shabby and rundown-looking.

I was never in doubt about the doctor’s, nurses’, and midwives’ knowledge and abilities.  But I have to admit, I did have moments of regret, like when I had to sit for hours in a windowless, overheated waiting room with chairs so old and worn that you could often see the stuffing breaking through cracks in the vinyl.  My baby was born in a clean, modern delivery room, but the room where we spent the following nights was drab, undecorated, and so unpleasant in its way that I could do nothing but look longingly out the window, impatient to get back out into the world (although maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing).

Dr. Chen acknowledges interior design’s vital role in medical care, citing not only her own experiences and reflections, but also a number of studies that have shown the same thing – including one that even goes so far as to claim that patients’ surroundings can have an effect on their recovery.  The only problem is, of course, cost: renovation or redecoration, Chen writes, “ha[ve] been shown to be more costly than similar adjustments in clinical care.”

Chen’s article was written in 2010, and it seems that as the years go by, researchers are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of how hospital interiors look.  For example, results of this 2014 study, found that the University Medical Center of Princeton’s new room design not only made patients more satisfied with their stay; it significantly reduced their demand for pain medication.

The next time someone you know talks about wanting to go into a creative field, if you’re a practical sort of person, don’t think of it as frivolous or unnecessary work: in a way, they could be helping to save lives.

By Alysa Salzberg

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