Nova Scotia

How light will change the way surgeons work at Dartmouth General

The new windows in operating rooms at the Dartmouth General Hospital might seem simple, but they're an unconventional addition in spaces that are typically isolated.

Being able to see outside will be 'calming and reassuring' for patients, says Dr. Alex Mitchell

Dr. Alex Mitchell says he's excited that patients will be able to look outside before getting an operation. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Patients heading to surgery at the Dartmouth General hospital might be surprised at what they see when they're brought into the new operating rooms: windows lining the back walls.

They might seem simple, but they're an unconventional addition in spaces that are typically isolated.

"In a traditional OR [operating room] designed with no windows, they're in a box with no real connection to the outside world for sometimes many, many hours at a time," said Dr. Alex Mitchell, a general surgeon at the Dartmouth, N.S., hospital.

"There's good evidence that says... natural light is healthy for people, and that anything we do that improves our staff mood, it only further heightens their capacity to provide great care."

Mitchell said in other modern operating rooms, hospitals are setting up screens showing landscapes and skies. In Dartmouth, patients will simply be able to see outside before the operation begins.

"From a patient's perspective, we think this is quite calming and reassuring," said Mitchell.

LED lights to play key role

The expansion at Dartmouth General is well underway, and the eight new, large operating rooms are on track to be finished in November.

When they're complete, they'll be at least 25 per cent bigger than the old rooms, and lighting will play a significant role in changing the way doctors and nurses work in the space.

Mitchell is downright giddy about the detail going into each room.

Along with the windows, big LED lights have been installed that are designed to reduce shadows.

The first surgeries to happen under the new lights are expected to be in late fall. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Their biggest advantage, said Mitchell, is the ability to change colour temperature. Yellow light, for example, shows off blood and soft tissue.

"I can turn that up to a bright white light which is best for the orthopedic surgeons looking at bone and tendon," he explained.

"It may seem subtle but for us, the way we see things and we're working is really important."

Overhead, the room can be turned bright white or green, which he said is ideal for laparoscopic surgeries because it helps to reduce the strain on the eyes of surgeons.

Once the final touches are completed on the operating rooms, staff will rehearse in their new space. Mitchell expects the first surgeries to happen under the new lights in late fall. 

About the Author

Carolyn Ray


Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at


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