Rochester, Minnesota




The research focus of Susan Hallbeck, Ph.D., is to improve medical device ergonomics, teamwork, health care ergonomics and lean health care systems. She is a certified professional ergonomist and licensed professional engineer in industrial engineering with a specialty in human factors and ergonomics. Dr. Hallbeck has worked with clinical faculty and staff in surgery, emergency medicine, internal medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, at the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System and, presently, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She is an emerita professor at the University of Nebraska, an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and an affiliate professor at Iowa State University, all in engineering.

Currently, Dr. Hallbeck directs the Human Factors Engineering Lab at Mayo Clinic. Her projects have included the design of laparoscopic tools; the ergonomic evaluation of open, laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery, especially focusing on laparoendoscopic single-site ports and instruments, postures and risk associated with those postures during surgery; the creation of ergonomic guidelines for the operating room (specifically, minimally invasive surgery); and the addition of microbreaks during surgery. Previously she also performed ergonomic evaluation of intubation, lean engineering and ergonomic redesign of resuscitation cart medication drawers, ergonomic evaluation of central venous catheterization, teamwork during code blue, positioning of prone patients for spinal surgery, and evaluation of personal monitors for home health use and remote monitoring of those devices by Mayo personnel.

Focus areas

  • Study of surgical teams in the operating room. Dr. Hallbeck is evaluating the usability of tools and the impact of single-port laparoscopic tools versus conventional laparoscopic surgical tools on workload.
  • Patient and surgical team safety. Additionally, she is investigating the effect of microbreaks on surgical team fatigue, as well as ways to enable more effective teamwork among surgical team members. She is also studying how to create a better working environment to reduce surgical errors. Her research is intended to benefit both patients and operating room personnel, making surgeries more successful.
  • Research and design of medical devices and systems. Dr. Hallbeck is involved in designing better laparoscopic surgical tools and systems (including training), as well as improving home monitoring systems and enhancing patient care.

Significance to patient care

The complex and demanding clinical environment can be better understood — thus making patient care easier to deliver — when a wide range of human factors and ergonomic concerns are considered that directly and indirectly impact human performance. Human factors and ergonomics applies scientific knowledge about human strengths and limitations to the design of systems in the work environment. The goal is to ensure a safe and satisfying performance for both patient and provider. The overall goal of human factors and ergonomics is to create a system in which the correct thing to do is also the easiest and most natural choice.

Rather than falling into the trap of uncritically focusing on human error and searching for individuals to blame, Dr. Hallbeck's research attempts to identify the factors contributing to substandard performance and find ways to better detect, recover from or preclude problems that could result in harm to patients or clinicians. Starting with the individual characteristics of providers such as their knowledge, skills, and sensory or physical capabilities, a hierarchy of system factors is examined. This includes the nature of the work performed, the physical environment, human-system interfaces, the organizational or social environment, management, and external factors.

Professional highlights

  • President, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2018-2020
  • Member, Committee on Ergonomics, American College of Surgeons, 2018-present
  • Council member, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Occupational Research Agenda, and Healthcare and Social Assistance industry sector, 2017-present
  • Board of advisors, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety, University of Minnesota, 2015-present
  • Editorial board member, Applied Ergonomics, 2012-present
  • Emerita professor, Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2012-present
  • Associate editor, IISE Transactions on Healthcare Systems Engineering, 2009-present
  • Fellow, Executive Leadership in Academic Technology & Engineering, 2017-2018
  • Executive council, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2008-2011, 2012-2015 and 2015-2018
  • Associate editor, Human Factors, 2012-2015
  • Fellow, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2014
  • Board of advisors, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety, University of Iowa, 1999-2013
  • Professor of industrial engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with a courtesy appointment in surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, 1989-2012
  • Engineering lead, VA Engineering Resource Center, VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, 2009-2011
  • Researcher, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, 2008
  • Committee chair, Ergonomics Quality in Design, International Ergonomics Association, 2006-2007
  • Researcher, Swedish National Institute for Working Life, 2001-2005


Primary Appointment

  1. Division of Health Care Policy & Research, Department of Quantitative Health Sciences
  2. Department of Surgery

Academic Rank

  1. Professor of Health Care Systems Engineering


  1. PhD - Industrial Engineering Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
  2. Masters - Industrial Engineering Texas Tech University
  3. BS - Industrial Engineering Iowa State University

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