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How are Nurse Leaders Inspiring Future Nurse Innovators?

When a design, when an idea, when simply thinking differently can save lives, it's important to make sure nurse innovators know how to move forward. That means empowering them to move from the bedside into the boardroom. Their extensive, hands-on patient experience means they’re the first to identify a patient’s problems and needs. And with their training, skills and innate resourcefulness, they’re also qualified to help shape what healthcare is, into what healthcare ought to be.

Here, we’ve collected stories from nurse leaders who have done just that. From past to present, they’re inspiring a new generation of innovators. Even if they don't consider themselves innovators yet.
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Timeline: A Legacy of Innovators
  • Intro
    Nurse-led innovation isn’t new. It began with the first recognized nurse innovator, Florence Nightingale, in the 19th century. That was over 160 years ago. Since then, nurses have been on the frontlines of every single health crisis and they’ve spearheaded significant breakthroughs in patient care, disease prevention, and medical devices.

    Nurses have laid the groundwork for decades of innovation. In the following timeline, you’ll see how.
  • 1854
    Florence Nightingale, a model for nurse innovation

    Florence Nightingale became the model for how nurses innovate, thanks to her revolutionary hygiene practices during the Crimean War. After working in desperate conditions at the Army hospital in Scutari Turkey, Florence and her medical team improved its facilities from top to bottom. They cleaned the wards, set up a kitchen, and provided wounded soldiers with the first form of what’s now known as “quality care.”

    As a result, far fewer patients died from hygiene-related diseases, prompting hospitals all over the world to formally adopt Florence’s practices — practices that are still used today.
  • 1939
    Elizabeth Kenny and the treatment of polio

    Like her predecessors, Elizabeth Kenny had no formal nursing education, but she would still be remembered for her breakthrough treatment of polio. When “Sister Kenny” (a name she earned in the Australian military) saw her first polio case, she had a hypothesis: that the patient’s limbs were stiff but not permanently paralyzed.

    Unaware that stiff braces were the accepted medical treatment at the time, she used hot packs and encouraged gentle movement. This method re-taught patients how to use limbs that had been only temporarily paralyzed by the virus, revolutionizing the treatment of the disease.
  • 1940s
    Adda May Allen, inventor of disposable liners for baby bottles

    Adda May Allen was a nurse at Columbia Hospital in Washington D.C. when she invented disposable liners for baby bottles. Realizing that babies often struggled to feed from traditional bottles, Adda created a disposable, collapsible liner that hospitals and moms at home could use once then throw away. It made it easier for babies to suck milk by eliminating the vacuum that traditional bottles created, working like a bag that closed in on its sides as a baby drank.
  • 1943
    Bessie Blount Griffin, inventor of the electronic feeding device

    African American nurse, Bessie Blount Griffin, was also a physical therapist and a forensic scientist. But she’s best known in the nursing community as the inventor of the electronic feeding device. While working at the Bronx Hospital in New York, Bessie invented an electric self-feeding tube for amputees, which could transport individual bites of food to a patient's mouth. All the patient had to do was bite down on the tube and the food would dispense from an attached machine.

    Bessie would later design a neck frame for injured or ill patients that could hold a bowl or cup close to their face as a "portable receptacle support."
  • 1950s
    Sister Jean Ward and the treatment for jaundice in infants

    Sister Jean Ward made a simple observation about sunlight that would lead to the most common clinical treatment for jaundice in infants. As Sister Jean was caring for newborns — during her time as head of the Premature Unit at Rochford General Hospital in Essex, England — she realized that sun exposure greatly reduced jaundice and its effects on the skin and liver.

    This discovery led to neonatal phototherapy, a practice that safely and effectively treats the condition by exposing babies to artificial UV light.
  • 1954
    Elise Sorensen and the first disposable ostomy bag

    Elise Sorensen was the innovator behind the first disposable ostomy bag, which helps patients with post-surgery stomas feel more comfortable doing everyday things. Following her sister’s ostomy operation — a procedure that removes the end of the intestine through the abdomen, allowing waste to exit through a surgically-created stoma — Elise designed a new way to manage stoma leaks.

    Instead of the metal capsules or fabric and rubber bags that were used at the time, Elise designed a disposable bag that was attached with an adhesive ring, a predecessor to the devices we use today.
  • 1968
    Anita Dorr and the crash cart

    As an OR nurse, nursing supervisor, and member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, Anita Dorr had a breadth of experience that she used to invent the first crash cart. After WWII, Anita went back to work as an ER nurse at Meyer Memorial in Buffalo, New York. There, after spending days carrying supplies back and forth, getting delayed every time there was an emergency, Anita leveraged her husband’s carpentry skills to invent the “Emergency Nursing Crisis Cart.”

    Today, it’s more commonly called a Crash Cart. And they're so essential that nurses customize them to their professional needs and even personal tastes.
  • 1980s
    The Wong-Baker FACES® Pain Rating Scale

    The Wong-Baker FACES® Pain Rating Scale — or happy to sad faces, as many know it — was created by Donna Wong and Connie Baker to help children communicate pain. As pediatric specialists, Donna and Connie worked with young patients to help them cope with illness or injury.

    In the hope of creating an effective pain assessment tool, patients were asked to think back to their own experiences and draw facial expressions to show how they felt when they experienced different levels of pain. Each face was unique, but soon, a pattern developed, becoming the modern-day rating scale we use today.
  • 1980s
    A more human standard of care for AIDS patients

    In the early 1980s, nurses Cliff Morrison and Alison Moed Paolercio did what few other people in the U.S. would have dared: establish a new standard of care for patients in the country’s first dedicated AIDS unit. HIV/AIDS was an epidemic that also brought with it an epidemic of hysteria, fear, and marginalization. When the disease was spreading faster than information could be obtained, nurses at San Francisco General Hospital defied medical conventions to treat “untouchable” patients with a truly innovative approach to care.

    In Wards 5B and 5A — wards specifically dedicated to HIV/AIDS — nurses put themselves at personal risk to stand beside patients as they faced painful symptoms and, oftentimes, death. It revolutionized hospital care at the time in the US and around the world, and proved instrumental in gathering data that transformed the disease from a fatal prognosis to a manageable condition.
  • 2003
    Safer patients and fewer errors, with color-coded IV lines

    After over 30 years of nursing experience, Teri Barton-Salinas and her sister, Gail Barton-Hay, put their observations into a unique innovation: color-coded IV lines. Noticing that there can be a number of hazards using clear, indistinguishable intravenous lines — let alone multiple lines, in some cases — Teri hypothesized that using different colors would make the insertion and removal process much easier.

    ColorSafe IV lines now allow nurses to more quickly and accurately identify a patient’s IV, especially in emergency situations when every second counts.
  • 2016
    Rebecca Koszalinski and the Speak For Myself-Voice app

    Throughout her career, Rebecca Koszalinski has been helping the speech vulnerable communicate. Mostly recently with her Speak For Myself-Voice app. Building on her background as a clinical instructor, researcher, assistant professor, and app developer, Rebecca created the Speak For Myself-Voice app. It helps disabled patients, such as those diagnosed with cerebral palsy, clearly communicate in clinical situations, like when they’re left unattended and find themselves in an uncomfortable position.

    As a result, Speak For Myself-Voice is now in the hands of those who need it most, so there can be open and effective lines of communication between friends, family members, healthcare providers, and the most vulnerable patients.

    Find Speak For Myself-Voice in the app store
  • 2018
    Johnson and Johnson Nurse Innovate Quick Fire Challenge

    In the spotlight of National Nurses Week, nurses Abby Hess, Lauren Wright, and Tram Pham became the first awardees of the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge. When Abby first started working as a nurse in the pediatric post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) of Cincinnati Children’s, she heard a valuable piece of advice: Kids who fall asleep fighting, as they’re given anesthesia, often wake up fighting.

    To make that process easier, she and her team created a breathing-controlled video game using anesthesia masks that provided a more engaging way to help kids practice being induced before surgery.

    Halfway across the country, Lauren and Tram were researching how to prevent dysbiosis — a disruption in the gut microbiome that affects over 4,000 babies a year. They learned that increasing breast milk consumption can establish immunity, so they turned to overcoming a common breastfeeding barrier: nipple confusion.

    To make sure babies who are used to being bottle-fed can return to the breast, they invented the Natural Nipple, which 3D prints the shape of a mother’s nipple.

    Learn more about the Natural Nipple
  • 2020
    Nurse Innovation in real time, to fight COVID-19

    From medical grade masks to new, color-coded methods of communication, nurses like Ellen Smithline and Jessica Latham, have been on the front lines, developing innovative responses to COVID-19. After 35 years of nursing — including first-hand experience with Ebola, SARS, and emergency care — Ellen paused her PhD program to work as an isolation tents nurse manager in communities hit with COVID-19.

    There, she put her crisis training to work by collaborating with her ground team to create a laser-cut shield from a single sheet of flexible plastic that can be worn over an N95 mask, curbing the need for goggles. No assembly required.

    Likewise, Jessica used her years of experience as an ICU educator to create “Code Cards” that helped pass important messages within her Covid-19 ICU quickly and effectively. Once the pandemic started to create more stressful conditions in her unit, Jessica’s team needed a way to keep the code team informed and those outside of the room unexposed. Within an hour of identifying the problem, they created laminated "Code Cards" with the most common medications and procedures, ready for use across ICU areas.

    Meet 10 Nurses pioneering COVID-19
  1. INTRO

How are nurses shaping healthcare today?

Spotlighting today’s emerging innovators and healthcare leaders is not only a way to celebrate them and their achievements—it’s also an opportunity to inspire and educate nurses who want to join their ranks in the future.

Our Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenges
Healthcare Transformation through Nurse-Led Tech
Together with the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) and the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge: Healthcare Transformation through Nurse-led Tech launched in November, 2021.
image of nurse caring for patient with high-tech healthcare solutions
image of nurse caring for patient with high-tech healthcare solutions
Improving Access to Care
The Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge: Improving Access to Care launched in May 2021. The Challenge looked to nurses and students to create potential solutions that aim to improve quality and access to equitable care and ultimately help prevent, intercept or treat disease.
Mom and daughter take a trip to the doctor's office for an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mom and daughter take a trip to the doctor's office for an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental Health
Together with the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge on Mental Health launched in 2020.
Patient speaking to nurse via a telehealth appointment
Patient speaking to nurse via a telehealth appointment
COVID-19 Patient Care
Together with the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs & Leaders (SONSIEL), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge: COVID-19 Patient Care launched in 2020.
Female nurse in scrubs and face mask performing a COVID-19 test
Female nurse in scrubs and face mask performing a COVID-19 test
Oncology Care
Together with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Oncology Care launched in 2019.
Female nurse smiling and talking to a male patient
Female nurse smiling and talking to a male patient
Maternal and Newborn Health
Together with the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Maternal and Newborn Health was launched in 2019.
Close-up of female nurse holding newborn baby
Close-up of female nurse holding newborn baby
Perioperative Care
In collaboration with the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Perioperative Care was launched in 2019.
Close-up of a female nurse in scrubs, face mask, and face shield
Close-up of a female nurse in scrubs, face mask, and face shield
Improving Human Health
In the inaugural launch of the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge series in 2018, the more than 3.2 million nurses located throughout the U.S. were invited to submit ideas for new devices, health technologies, protocols or treatment approaches that had the power to profoundly impact patient care and human health.
Male and female nurse in scrubs smiling while looking at computer
Male and female nurse in scrubs smiling while looking at computer
Hear from Leaders in the Field
  • Why Nurse Innovation Matters

    Throughout history, nurses have brought innovation to patient care and profoundly changed human health. And for over 120 years, Johnson & Johnson has been proud to support and elevate the impact of nursing by championing nurse-led innovation. Today, we continue to be committed to advocating for, and empowering nurses globally, as critical drivers of better human health outcomes.

  • Healthcare's Top Innovators: Nurses

    Every day, nurses are innovating on the front lines of health, providing life-changing care, and driving better health outcomes for patients and families. As a guide to present and future nurse innovators, “Healthcare’s Top Innovators: Nurses” is presented by Rebecca Love, MSN, BA, RN, FIEL, Director of Nurse Innovation & Entrepreneurship, School of Nursing, Northeastern University, Boston, MA.

If you’re looking for more ways to feel inspired by nurse innovators, read these stories.
  • Johnson & Johnson has proudly championed the nursing profession for over 125 years because we know that for healthcare to work, it takes nurses. This National Nurses Month, we celebrate the innovation, expertise and tremendous impact of more than 4 million nurses across the U.S. Below, meet four inspiring nurses dedicated to transforming the health of their patients and communities, underscoring the innovation and leadership of the nursing profession.
  • Public health nursing is a unique specialty, offering nurses the opportunity to impact population health at the bedside and beyond. In celebration of National Public Health Week, meet Dr. Oluwatosin Olateju, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Coppin State University and Co-Chair of the Maryland Commission on Public Health, whose tireless efforts demonstrate the power of nurse-led innovation and patient advocacy.
  • Nurse holding glass globe in hands
    The effects of climate change impact human health in many ways, from changing disease patterns to increasing the risk of food insecurity. In observance of Earth Day, meet public health nurse Kasey Bellegarde, MPH, RN and physician Jonathan Perlin, MD, PhD, who share their perspective on nursing’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change and building a more sustainable and equitable future.
More Nurse-led Innovation
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Group of smiling nurses in scrubs holding folders
Group of smiling nurses in scrubs holding folders
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