School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Nurses are Natural Innovators

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I used to think that “innovation” meant creating an app for some unique nursing challenge. Since I had no coding experience, I never considered myself a nurse innovator.  Then one day, I was contacted by nursing professor Rachel Walker, PhD, RN from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to invite me to speak to her class about my “innovative” use of social media. Next, Marion Leary, MSN, RN, Director of Penn’s Innovation Lab invited me to participate in a new Nurse Innovation Podcast. We had a conversation about what I thought innovation was versus what it really encompasses. I walked away from that conversation with a new perspective about nursing innovation and maybe, just maybe I was an accidental innovator. 

There is a need for nurses to lead innovative healthcare design thinking to broaden how we view solutions. This is a creative endeavor that calls for cross-sector partnerships. The power nurses have is invaluable. We look for solutions and solve problems from a front line perspective. Nurses are being tapped to solve major healthcare problems. That is innovation too, but perhaps like me, other nurses may have not fully embraced the role as innovators.  

I decided to do an innovation inventory ahead of the upcoming Penn podcast.  My use of social media, especially Twitter, for amplifying the voice of nursing was being recognized as innovative, which I continued to find surprising. I needed to expand my own definition of innovation to decide if my work falls within that scope of practice. Blogging is also innovative. The Relentless School Nurse continues to grow readership and I use a variety social media platforms to share the weekly posts. Blogging is now included in my newly expanded vision of innovation. 

My work with Community Cafes falls in the category of innovation in nursing. It is interesting to imagine that speaking directly with parents about their children’s healthcare experience would be considered novel and innovative. We asked families what they needed to strengthen their relationships with their healthcare providers and we acted on it.  This change project was the result of my team participation in the 2015 Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Program. Community Cafes are small group gatherings where structured conversations around specific topics are held and community-based solutions are identified. It is a participant-driven discussion that empowers community members by asking about their experiences or solutions to specific topics. It is also innovative, I can say that now with conviction, but I did not know that until recently.

I still may identify as an accidental nurse innovator, but I am more willing to recognize those components of my nursing practice that are innovative.  Innovation can also mean that you have come up with an innovative process, not necessarily a specific device. Nurses use “workarounds” all of the time, that is innovation and we must make it standard practice to share these ideas. Even that thought is innovative!

In my quest to understand what nursing innovation really means, I decided to sign up for the Sonsiel Nursing Hackathon, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson on November 15-17, 2019. Our years of nursing experience are incredibly valuable and we must embrace that value because we can impact the future of healthcare!  My goal is to learn a new way of thinking, and hopefully I will learn to view myself as a nurse innovator, which could be a game-changer. Look for an upcoming blog post about my Hackathon experience!

In the meantime, here are some important resources in case you want to take a deep dive into the world of nursing innovation!

Nurse Innovation: Saving the Future of Healthcare | Rebecca Love | TEDxBeaconStreet

This course was created by the innovative minds at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation.

The Course

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