How does nurse-led innovation come to life?
Embracing a need for change. Clearly defining the problem. Experimentation. Collaborative thinking that breaks down the norm. All of these are critical parts of the innovation process. But knowing where to start can lead to more questions than answers — especially in a complex industry like healthcare. Luckily, there are many nurse innovators who have already paved a way.
Here are examples of nurse-led innovations that have made an impact on healthcare for the better, and a breakdown of the process it takes to bring these solutions to life.
Because it’s not just about developing a new gizmo or gadget. It’s about creating new models of care, safety practices, more efficient processes — and even innovations that tackle social challenges to improve patient outcomes.
Where do you begin?
While it might be easy to recognize an idea, figuring out what to do next can feel overwhelming. To help you get started, here are steps in the Design Thinking process — a solution-based approach to solving complex problems — that many healthcare innovators use.
Define the ProblemBringing an innovation to life starts well before creating it. It begins with clearly defining a problem and empathizing with the people you could help. As a nurse innovator, consider what things will look like in the future and how healthcare can be improved overall, especially with the current U.S. healthcare system. Take the opportunity to truly understand a patient’s needs and the needs of the system as a whole, so you can start coming up with a truly impactful solution that goes beyond standard, everyday care.
While this step is often fraught with uncertainty, try to stay focused on the moment. Reframe ideas and find patterns in the information you’re given. That will help you decide the people, tools, and techniques you need to tackle it.
Ideate and BrainstormOnce you have a solution in mind, workshop it. Speak with your colleagues, healthcare staff in different departments, and thinkers from other industries, like tech development and engineering. As you integrate different points of view, continue testing new ideas and learning from less familiar scenarios.
Over time, the information you’ll gather will come from many places and take on different forms — from treatment history to lifestyle choices and even genetic data — and synthesizing it will help you identify more underlying opportunities. Developing frameworks, like mapping out when and how people will use your solution, can help you connect those dots and thread disparate pieces together.
Prototype, Iterate, RepeatNow that you understand what you’re designing, it’s time to prototype your idea. That could mean building something tangible, designing something digital that you can click or tap through, or piloting a trial with a small group of volunteers. To mitigate risk in these early testing stages, consider moving from hospital-based clinical experiences to simulation-only laboratories.
Remember that your prototype doesn’t have to be perfect. Show it at an appropriate level of polish, based on who will test it and the feedback you hope to gain — whether it’s from peers or end users, like patients. Once you receive their input, iterate and repeat the process.
Repeating this loop of prototyping, testing, and gathering feedback is critical for making sure your design is right. Meaning: It works for your users, you can build it, and you can support it.
Build SupportThe purpose of creating a prototype is to be able to share it with people who can help you bring it to life. Start with your immediate network and who can connect you with other nurse innovators. Look into healthcare-focused innovation events in your area. And share your idea at events like hackathons, where you could meet new thinkers to join your team.
As you share your idea, don’t forget the spectrum between those who will directly benefit from your solution and those who have the resources to promote its implementation. Remember: whether it’s from a chief nursing officer, chief clinical officer, or research dean, support for an innovation, and a more innovative culture, starts at the top and filters down through all levels of a healthcare organization.
PitchingFor many new nurse innovators, pitching their first idea can feel daunting, especially when there are a lot of stakeholders to please. Needs, wants, and values can vary from person to person. With that in mind, tailor your pitch to who you need to make an impression on at any given time. When speaking to a physician, focus on topics like improved outcomes, but when presenting to an executive, touch on increased revenues.
Making sure your presentation is succinct yet comprehensive can also help drive these conversations forward. Keep it short, sharp, and easily understandable. Do the homework on potential buyers so you can anticipate questions, like whether or not your solution will fit within their electronic medical records (EMR.) And don't overstate your connection with healthcare organizations — knowing an individual is not the same as having a relationship with the institution.
ImplementAs you implement your solution, you’ll continue working closely with key stakeholders, including the medical team who will use it every day, and organizational leaders. Understand that you may experience pauses — after all, innovating means iterating and making changes — but this is where the support system you’ve built can help reinforce your idea’s positive impact.
Once it’s been launched, keep monitoring your solution’s progress and resetting the bar for what success looks in the immediate and far future. At that point, you can plan how to scale from a smaller group of early users to hundreds of thousands, all over the world.
Learn from Nurse Innovators
Learn the business of healthcare. Don't be scared of finance, strategy, operations, or entrepreneurship because it will give you the skill sets you need to be able to sit at the table in the boardroom, and drive forward the transformational change that is needed to be led by nursing."
For over 17 years, nurses have been identified as the most trusted profession, but we don’t have the same level of influence. We need to figure out how to leverage this trust… With these challenges come great opportunities to create the future of nursing, instead of letting it happen to us. This is the time to be more innovative than ever before."
One of the best things nurses can do is become aware of the role of design in delivering care, and that, just because something has been designed a particular way because it’s how it has always been, doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved."
It’s incredible for nurses to learn the language of entrepreneurship, the process behind creating and commercializing an idea, developing a business plan, and more. I think a big barrier for nurses in innovation is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and providing mentorship to nurses is vital to helping them and future nurses succeed."
Innovation is not an elitist sport. It is not for people with fancy titles. In fact, we know that innovation is most impactful when it is initiated by those in the frontlines. When you involve the people in the frontlines and empower them to solve problems, they most often come up with elegant solutions that are incredibly cost-effective."