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 professional engineer in industrial engineering with a specialty in human factors and ergonomics. She 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 now at Mayo Clinic.

Her projects have included the design of laparoscopic tools, ergonomic evaluation of laparoendoscopic single-site ports and tools, creation of ergonomic guidelines for the operating room (specifically, minimally invasive surgery) and addition of microbreaks during surgery, ergonomic evaluation of intubation, lean engineering and ergonomic redesign of crash-cart medication drawers, ergonomic evaluation of central venous catheterization, teamwork during code blue, positioning of prone patients for spinal surgery, 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 their impact on workload for single-port laparoscopic tools versus conventional laparoscopic surgical tools.
  • Patient and surgical team safety. Additionally, she is investigating the effect of microbreaks on surgical team fatigue, as well as enabling 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 patient 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, and patient care is 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 is the application of 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.

Rather than falling into the trap of uncritically focusing on human error and searching for individuals to blame, this research attempts to identify the contributing factors 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.

The overall goal of human factors and ergonomics is to create a system where the correct thing to do is the easiest and most natural choice.

Professional highlights

  • President, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2018-2020
  • Executive council, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2008-2011 and 2012-2015
  • Associate editor, IIE Transactions on Healthcare Systems Engineering, 2009-present
  • Board of advisors, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety, 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 with the 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


See my publications


Primary Appointment

  1. Consultant, Division of Health Care Policy & Research, Department of Health Sciences Research

Joint Appointment

  1. Consultant, 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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