Nurses as Makers: Workarounds & Opportunities for Innovation

We’ve always been innovators, we just don’t call ourselves that. We don’t think of it.

Christine Meehan, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at University of Connecticut

With all of this talk of nurses being the natural innovators in healthcare, we thought it would be a good time to explain what that really means.

Essentially every workaround performed is an exercise in innovative thinking.

Have you ever faced a problem in the workplace that impedes the efficiency of your work or the care of a patient?
Have you devised methods to rectify this issue so that you can continue with your work?
If so, congratulations! You’ve successfully completed a workaround.

These workarounds are often incubators for new, innovative ideas.
However, time spent performing workarounds is time spent away from the patient—creating enduring solutions to those problems gives that time back to those who need it most.

Nurses are perfectly situated within the healthcare ecosystem to generate new approaches to preexisting problems. Who else is as acutely aware of what needs to be fixed to improve patient care other than the nurses providing that care day in and day out? I’m waiting..

Every problem or flawed system yields potential for fresh, innovative perspectives.

Take Tiffany Kelley, Founder of Nightingale Apps LLC, for instance. She leveraged our culture’s ever-increasing mobile capabilities by developing the app, Know My Patient, as an alternative to bulky report sheets and scribbling on paper in a pinch. Nurses now have an on-the-go reference guide for their patients as well as a bedside data collector—all on the smartphone that was already tucked in their scrubs.

The reason why nurses are the only individuals set up to solve these problems is because no one else knows they exist.

Tiffany Kelley, Founder and CEO of Nightingale Apps
 Maggie McLaughlin, Christine Meehan & Christine O′Brien

Maggie McLaughlin, Christine Meehan & Christine O′Brien

Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs

While Tiffany Kelley took the entrepreneurial route, it is good to note the different paths a nurse can take once they’ve identified a potential solution to a problem in health care.

Christine Meehan, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at University of Connecticut, defines entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship as follows:

An entrepreneur has a novel idea and seeks to gain commercial adaption and financial success.
An intrapreneur works within an organization to create innovation for the betterment of the organization.

Tiffany Kelley is an entrepreneur. She founded a company around her idea and is using it to help nurses everywhere. That being said, the path of the entrepreneur is arduous, albeit incredibly rewarding when coupled with success. Here are some fantastic online resources useful for experienced and budding nurse entrepreneurs alike:

Top 40 Entrepreneur Blogs of 2017

Intrapreneurship can be less daunting as you’re working within an organization but can be equally as rewarding if your end goal is to improve patient care. Who knows, the right idea might even end up with a promotion. At the very least, it’s a noteworthy accomplishment to leverage during salary negotiations and job interviews. Moreover, innovation departments are popping up everywhere at hospitals around the country, including Mass General and Boston Children’s Hospital, further exemplifying the need for innovation across healthcare.

At the end of the day, however, not every workaround is going to amount to a product that changes the face of healthcare, but that’s not the point. The point is to recognize that every workaround carries the potential for innovation. These solutions might take flight outside the walls of your organization into the realm of entrepreneurship or they might be adapted by your workplace to solve a pressing issue.

For nurses, the most important takeaway is to never undervalue these workarounds—no matter how simple the solution might seem—or worse, not think anything of them at all.