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Nursing News HighlightsNurses Leading Innovation

How to Become a Nurse Entrepreneur

A stethoscope resting next to a piece of paper with a lightbulb drawn on it
“If you hear that little voice inside you or have that little nudge to take action on an idea, go for it. Nurses are in the best position to fully see the patient experience and understand firsthand the care delivery process. Every day, as we go through the critical tasks of patient care, we see opportunities for improvement.” — Christine O'Brien MSHI, RN

Do you have an idea that could improve healthcare or nursing practice? Is it just a thought or will you harness it to become reality in the healthcare space?

Christine O'Brien MSHI, RN, is a nursing informatics specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Mass. She has a background as a med-surg nurse, and last year, she became a nurse entrepreneur. Taking a leap of faith, she decided to attend Northeastern University’s “Nurse Hackathon: Nurses Hacking HealthCare” event for nurse entrepreneurs and those involved in healthcare innovation. We interviewed O’Brien to discuss her thoughts on the Nurse Hackathon and nurse entrepreneurship.

“As a nurse you already have within you what it takes to make your dream a reality. Project management skills, ingenuity and perseverance are a successful skill set for a nurse entrepreneur,” said O’Brien. “Now, all you need is a leap of faith and the resources to help you move forward. Those resources are readily available, but you need to know where to look.”

Woman smiling at camera

For O’Brien, the Nurse Hackathon acted like a crash course in nurse entrepreneurship. After three days of pitching ideas, pivoting concepts, mentorship and collaboration, O’Brien’s team came up with an idea of a "plug-in" app for school electronic medical record systems that helps school nurses track and alert parents and the public health department about outbreaks of illnesses and contagious conditions in their schools. This technology won second place at the Nurse Hackathon and could potentially replace the antiquated system of faxes and crumpled up papers at the bottom of children’s backpacks. The team won a cash prize to pursue their idea and seminar courses covering business decision making for nurse entrepreneurs to get them started in their ventures.

If you’re ready to get started as a nurse entrepreneur, O’Brien shared guidelines she learned at the Nurse Hackathon workshops for you to consider as you build your idea:

  • Be Confident: By recognizing the power and strength within ourselves and each other, nurses can work together to turn thoughts into a concrete plan to induce positive change and create the catalyst for innovation at the workplace and beyond, says O’Brien. Nurses are uniquely equipped to discover innovations, drawing on our experience on the front lines of care. Be confident in your ability to be a change agent.
  • Evaluate Your Idea: Ask yourself what problem is your idea or company concept solving? Do a lot of people have the same problem? O’Brien said that at the end of the day, you might have an incredibly innovative and interesting concept but if it doesn’t address a consumer’s need it may not get very far off the ground. “As nurses, we need to know the patient impact. As entrepreneurs, we need to know our audience,” O’Brien adds.
  • Complete a market analysis: O’Brien suggests doing some research to see what other solutions have been developed for the problem you identified. What else is out there? Who’s the competition? Despite the fact that there may be competition in the space, is your solution revolutionary in some way? Does it offer something the other solutions do not?
  • Set Up Your Business to be a Success: O’Brien says administrative details can go a long way to helping set your idea for success. Purchase the domain names for your company name, and begin to formulate your business plan. Think about your idea’s scope and target audience.
  • Talk to a Mentor:  Don’t forget to ask for help, said O’Brien. A mentor can help you get your company off the ground or suggest ideas or angles that you might not have thought of on your own. It’s always good to have collaboration and support from others in the field. Learn and draw from your mentor’s experience and knowledge base.
  • Fail Well: Don’t be afraid to fail. As one of O’Brien’s mentors told her, there is such a thing as a “successful failure.” “If you can learn from the failure, it’ll be the ultimate pivot point in your entrepreneurial experience. The idea is the easy part. Acting on it is harder but perseverance is the key to success and will be the most challenging part on your entrepreneurial journey.”

“If you hear that little voice inside you or have that little nudge to take action on an idea, go for it,” O’Brien urges. “Nurses are in the best position to fully see the patient experience and understand firsthand the care delivery process. Every day, as we go through the critical tasks of patient care, we see opportunities for improvement. I have no doubt that every nurse has several innovative ideas in a single day as passing thoughts in their busy lives. These are the embers of innovation! These thoughts can be the springboard for a technology initiative driven by nurses.”

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