Aiming to put a smile back on the faces of children with cancer, Nourhan Elnemr, a 25-year-old from Cairo, decided to volunteer at Egypt’s Children’s Cancer Hospital 57375 back in 2017. She used her passion for design and colors to run some painting workshops with the children. Her workshops were a success for a straight eight months which encouraged the hospital to ask her to redesign their nursing gowns.
“When 57357 hospital asked me to redesign their nursing gowns, I didn’t want to just make some random cheerful designs. I’ve seen these children at their best and worst, and I know what they like and what would grab their attention,” said Nourhan El-Nemr, the founder of Nour El-Nemr Designs.
ElNemr designed the gowns with some Arabic motivational words from the children’s everyday lives, such as smile, we love you, and tomorrow will be better. After finishing the gowns, she traveled for a while abroad. When she returned to the hospital, she was surprised by the positive feedback on her work.
All of the hospital’s nursing staff was wearing her design. She was even approached by a mother who thanked her for putting a smile on her face with the new gowns on a terrible day.
“I spent all night crying after talking to this woman. She made me notice that my passion for design is a given gift from God. I then took an auth with myself that I won’t let something impactful like this stop only at one hospital.” Elnemr said.
This auth opened the door for the field of experience design in Egyptian hospitals and medical institutions. Elnemr established her experience design company, Nour Elnemr Designs, where she transforms the hospitals, intending to add brightness and positivity to the patient experience.
“Everything in the hospital is like a linked circle. When a nurse visits a child with their cheerful gown, it helps with the morals of these children, which affects their response to the treatment and works up their appetite,” said Ahmed Hamdy, a volunteer at 57357 hospital.
According to a recent study in the Children Basel Journal, 82% of the children with cancer have negative experiences related to the disease. Adding to this, the treatment usually affects the children’s eating habits which makes their recovery journey harder.
To help reduce the general stress and anxiety of being in a hospital, ElNemr customizes everything in the hospitals with a human-centric touch to create welcoming and open environments for the patients and their families. Disney's five sensory experience inspires the idea behind her customized designs, and her designs touch upon the five senses of the patients, sight, smell, touch, hearing, and tasting.
For example, Elnemr studies the situation in each hospital to understand the downsides of their sensory experiences. Some hospitals have a different smell profile, and in this case, she uses lavender diffusers to fill the hospital with a good and relaxing smell. She also customizes the hospitals’ curtains, sheets, scrubs, post-op gowns, recovery areas, and waiting rooms.
“At first, I didn’t get the reason behind changing the hospital’s scrubs, but then I liked the way they looked, and they help reduce the children’s fear of the nurses or the medicine,” said Dr. Ola Taha, a volunteer in a number of children’s hospitals.
“Despite being too young to understand the new colors and the drawings on the hospital walls, I have noticed an increase in my daughter’s acceptance of the hospital,” said Wafaa Mahmoud, a parent of a four-year-old child at Magdy Yacoub Global Heart foundation.
So far, Elnemr has transformed five charitable Egyptian cancer and heart hospitals for both children and adults. She usually takes around a month to understand the hospital’s needs, and then she and her ten members team redesign the place according to a personalized concept and philosophy.
“When we read personalized motivational words around the hospital, such as you’re beautiful and you’re strong, or when we get our chemotherapy in comfortable and relatable rooms, it touches upon our pain. It helps us feel that we aren’t alone,” said Neven Ramadan, a 50-year-old breast cancer warrior.
Elnemr’s dream is to transform all Egyptian hospitals, but the lack of support and tight budgets are two of the biggest challenges facing her experience design project.
“Hospitals usually prefer to dedicate their budgets to medical devices. I’ve been knocking on every door for four years now to convince them that the psychological health of the patients accounts for 90% of their response to the treatment, and thankfully it is starting to work,” Elnemr said.