2023 PDC Summit and AIA/AAH Student Design Challenge Recap






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Collaboration Yields Solutions Addressing Nursing Challenges at the PDC Summit Planning & Design Student Challenge

While nurses are considered by many to be the backbone of the U.S. healthcare system, one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare today is a shortage of nurses and subsequent burnout primarily due to the toll of the pandemic, an aging workforce, and an aging population in need of care. This challenge has many healthcare professionals calling for a care model redesign. At the 2023 International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction (PDC Summit), a new generation of designers were tasked with tackling this subject during a design competition called the PDC Planning & Design Student Challenge.

Student teams representing majors in architecture, engineering, construction, and nursing from Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, Penn State University, Clemson University, and Montana State University, came together with Banner Health in Phoenix, Arizona to address the problem - Caring for the Caregiver. Four teams of five students each were selected by a random draw and instructed to develop a plan for a building and wellness space for healthcare providers to help combat burnout – and in just 48 hours!  

Chaired by Eugene Damaso, AIA, ACHA, NCARB, GGP, EDAC, Director of Design at RLF, the student competition focuses on bringing together individuals in multiple disciplines of healthcare planning, design, and construction to put their classroom lessons to work and collaborate on a real-world problem. Team members must learn to listen to different perspectives, bounce ideas off one another, and come to a consensus on the appropriate solution.  “The competition is challenging in that these students don’t know one another, and they have to bond and work collaboratively to find a solution in a very short period of time,” says Damaso.  

In this scenario, Banner Health served as the client and the project kicked off with a site visit of the proposed space. Each team had less than 48 hours to develop a solution that included design and architectural requirements, engineering systems and infrastructure, and a construction plan and budget. Advisors and mentors working in the healthcare design space provided feedback and insight to teams throughout the competition.

According to the American Association of College of Nursing, approximately 30,000 nurses will be needed each year through 2031 to meet the rising demand for care. Compounding the problem is the burnout experienced by many due to overloaded hospitals during the pandemic and the fact that nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand. At Montana State University, educators are looking for answers to an unprecedented loss in care due to the pandemic. “In the rural healthcare space, we have lost one out of four of our hospitals,” says Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, MS-CRM, RN, Assistant Professor at Montana State University College of Nursing. “We are lacking access to care. Our population was decimated and [we] had to really build back. Nursing is the most trusted profession, and they are looking to us now for solutions,” she adds.

Collaboration between the next generation of healthcare planning, design, and construction professionals is needed to take on the challenges of the future. In a society where social media and non-interpersonal communication between each other has become the norm, it is more important than ever for our up-and-coming healthcare design industry leaders to work together to learn, network, and discover ways to create value for the healthcare-built environment. It is this component of the student challenge that makes the event so powerful. According to participant Amanda Rich, an architecture student at Texas Tech University, the process gave her new insight into working as a team with people she did not know. Katlin Tonkin, a long-distance learner in the nursing school at Montana State University, remarked “This has been wonderful to come collaborate with different professions and learn a ton about design which is so important in healthcare.”

After 48 hours, each team must present their solution to a jury represented by healthcare industry leaders and one team is selected as the winner. “We concluded the challenge with some great thoughts around the issue of nurse shortage and burnout,” remarked Damaso. “The students proposed solutions aimed at humanizing our nurses and providing them with the utmost care by creating spaces that are restorative, empathetic, and adaptable,” he added.  

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the AIA Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) present the annual competition. Sponsorship of the 2023 Student Challenge was provided by the American Society of Health Care Engineering (ASHE), the Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design (NIHD), HDR, Banner Health, and McCarthy Building Companies.