Topics: College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Immersive Learning

June 21, 2011

Students work in assembly line fashion to complete 200 prototypes of the hospital gowns they are creating for patients with cancer at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital. The gowns are created with fashionable yet functional features that allow for easy access to the patients~~~ bodies.
Ill-fitting, oversized hospital gowns may become a design of the past if a class of Ball State fashion students has its say in the process. As part of a summer apparel manufacturing course, the students are redesigning hospital gowns for patients with cancer  at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital with comfort, function and style foremost in mind.

Instructor Trenton Bush said the students are learning valuable skills as part of an immersive learning experience in which they are delivering a product from idea to creation in the span of a five-week summer session. A public unveiling ceremony to present the redesigned gowns to the hospital's oncology unit will take place at 3 p.m. June 26 in Ball State's Fine Arts Building, Room 217. The event is free and open to the public.

An emotional connection to the project

Meeting patients with cancer at the hospital opened students' eyes to the poor design of patients' existing gowns, said Bush, who's overseeing the class with fellow fashion instructor Valerie Birk.

"The majority of patients were swimming in these huge, pea-green gowns, which nurses had to cut into just to gain access to ports on their bodies," Bush said. "While many of these patients are facing grim prognoses, we all feel they deserve to wear something better, something that will help them maintain their dignity and self-confidence during treatment."

The idea for the course originated with Ball State sophomore Jenna Maher. During Maher's visit to campus last year as an incoming freshman, her mother, a local pharmaceutical representative, mentioned to Bush how his students should contact the hospital with the idea.

"My mom has friends who work on the oncology floor at the hospital, so she knew their frustration with these gowns they had to wear," Maher said. "I thought making a few new designs would be something I could do for a class project. I never envisioned it would become a class of its own — and that I'd play such a leadership role in it."

Other students say they wanted to get involved because the goal hits close to home. "My grandma had cancer, and after I saw what she went through, this just became personal to me," said senior Caitlin Marshall, who's fulfilling the role of production manager for the class.  

Patients suggest refinements

Together, the students are working daily to create 200 prototypes — 40 gowns for each of the five designs they have created. They are responsible for every aspect of the project, including ordering the hundreds of yards of material necessary for the gowns. For the women's designs, features include soft ruffles to hemlines and a wrap-dress functionality for easy access to the body, and for the men, lapels that lend themselves to the look of a robe or smoking jacket. Birk said one of the benefits to the project's philanthropic angle is how collaborative the students have become to meet their goal.

"There's no competition among them. They all see this as an opportunity to change the quality of someone's life," she said.  

Dani Williams, nurse manager of the oncology ward at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, said patients who met with the students had specific suggestions for them, including enhanced privacy to the gowns, use of warmer materials and a change in the fabric texture and color.

"Hospital gowns designed with some of those needs in mind can be a little thing that makes a huge difference for the patient," she said. "We're just so fortunate this group saw our oncology patients as the population they wanted to impact."