Designing for Impact: Alumna Brings Color and Joy to Egypt's Hospitals

Nour El Nemr

​​Thanks to designer Nour Elnemr ‘20, a political science major with a minor in economics, four hospitals in Egypt have undergone major transformations with effects that can be felt by staff, patients and the 24 year-old herself. Elnemr has customized scrubs, post-op gowns, recovery areas and waiting rooms throughout the last four years with the goal of adding brightness and positivity to the patient experience.

“With my designs, I'm trying to change the experience people have when accessing medical care,” she said. “Patient experience is very important, especially for those with cancer. It's 90% of the healing process.”

During her sophomore year at AUC, Elnemr worked as an intern for an interior design company. It was during this time that she came up with her first idea. “I remember sitting in class one day, and it hit me: I wanted to design a line with an impact," she recalled. 

Elnemr decided to create a furniture line decorated with drawings done by cancer patients.

She presented it to Cairo’s Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt 57357 soon thereafter, and to her surprise, they asked her to start the next day. To get the designs, Elnemr held workshops with the hospital’s children for 12 hours each week over six months, where she introduced them to artists such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee and Matisse for inspiration.

“Sitting with the kids was out of this world and life-changing,” she said. “They are all brilliant and bright. Their only challenge is having cancer.”

Nour El Nemr

The furniture sold quickly, and revenues from sales went directly back to the hospital. Pleased with Elnemr’s work, the hospital’s CEO approached her to create a similar design for the hospital staff’s white scrubs. Drawing from her time spent with the kids, Elnemr came up with brightly colored positive affirmations for the otherwise bland uniforms. Each affirmation was specific to a patient struggle she noted during her time in the hospital. Phrases included “We love you,” “Tomorrow’s a new day” and “You are superman.”

During the design phase, she knew that her scrubs would stand out among others because of this personalized touch.

“Other designers of hospital scrubs have not met these kids. They have not seen the happiness or the pain that they have in their eyes,” she said. “My affirmations are there to repair that pain.”

Elnemr saw and felt the impact of her design six months later when she returned to the hospital and found the staff wearing her scrubs. “A woman came up to me and thanked me, saying that I made her smile after she thought she never would again,” she remembered. Seeing the positive effects her designs had on an entire hospital inspired Elnemr to take her work to others.

Nour El Nemr Designs

So she launched her own company, Nour Elnemr Designs, through which she has come up with and implemented similar projects for the Baheya Foundation For Early Detection & Treatment Of Breast Cancer in El Haram, the Al Nas Hospital in Shoubra and the Magdi Yacoub Foundation’s Aswan Heart Centre. Each project required around two months of research, she said, so that her designs could properly combat the challenges facing each institution.

For example, the Magdi Yacoub Foundation’s hospital manager reported that they were struggling in encouraging kids to adopt healthy habits post-operation. To remedy this, Elnemr came up with a line of superheroes to feature on the post-op gowns. Each superhero embodied a healthy habit, such as exercise and coming to follow-up appointments.

Nour El Nemr Designs Superheroes
Elnemr's superheroes

 

The young designer recalled her own obstacles during this time, from balancing her academic and work lives to managing tight budgets and overcoming doubt from people who saw her as “just a student.”

“I had to prove myself time and again and assure people that I could work on these high-level projects,” she said. “It was a tough journey but one that I am grateful for.”

Elnemr ultimately dreams of spreading her work to the rest of Egypt’s hospitals and beyond. “Alongside other projects, I'm trying to show multinationals that I'm a realistic and affordable option,” she said, stressing the importance of designing a space according to the people who occupy it. 

Magdi Yacoub in Aswan
The Magdi Yacoub Foundation's Aswan Heart Centre

 

Full of ambition, compassion and gratitude, Elnemr continues to build a portfolio that sets her apart from others in the industry. “This is not a normal design firm,” she emphasized. “Our designs are human-centric and very close to our hearts.”

All photos courtesy of Nour ElNemr Designs