Adding Innovation to Nursing Education - July 2021
Within the first two years of my nursing career, I grew quite frustrated with the daily inefficiencies in care delivery that I encountered while trying to provide patient care.
Tiffany Kelly, PhD, MBA, RN
Within the first two years of my nursing career, I grew quite frustrated with the daily inefficiencies in care delivery that I encountered while trying to provide patient care. Whether a lack of available linen on the cart or running in and out of empty rooms, looking in drawers for syringe pumps to hang a medication, and/or trying to solve the infamous ‘air in line’ challenge in the patient’s room, these seemingly small issues are just a few examples of pervasive organizational level challenges faced by nurses across the United States that take valuable time from the nurse and impact the patient’s experience. The time lost on these organizational challenges, can equate to approximately ten percent of a nurse’s shift and/or up to 25% of a hospital’s budget. If we allow these operational challenges to continue unresolved, we are not delivering the highest possible quality patient care.
What nurses of all roles and experience levels need to know is that these daily challenges can be, and should be, solved at an organizational level to allow for more efficient, safe, timely and patient-centered care. However, without the knowledge, skills, and abilities of how to design, develop, implement, and scale innovative solutions, we cannot expect to resolve these challenges nor proactively anticipate and solve for those of the future.
Therefore, nurses need to be educated on the science of innovation. We cannot expect nurses or any healthcare professional to be able to effectively transform healthcare from a reactive to a proactive state without instilling a foundation on innovation theory, methodologies, and implementation. Ideally, this education would begin within nursing students’ undergraduate studies, before entering the workforce and continue to be included within graduate studies (e.g., MS, DNP, PhD). With approximately 200,000 graduates each year, we could scale this knowledge and create impactful change through one million nurses over five years!
The University of Connecticut School of Nursing embraced this vision to prepare the next generation of nurses with an innovative mindset starting in 2013. Focused initially on undergraduate seniors, faculty challenged nursing students to identify a nursing problem in need of a solution. The success of students’ innovation prototypes and pitches led to a generous gift to the School of Nursing to continue this work through a visiting professorship dedicated to innovation and new knowledge development in nursing. To our knowledge, this is the one of the first dedicated Visiting Professor academic roles to educate and influence nursing students on innovation science.
In 2018, I joined the UConn School of Nursing as the inaugural DeLuca Foundation Visiting Professor for Innovation and New Knowledge. My charge over the last three years has focused on ensuring that innovation content is incorporated into the core curriculum of all degree programs. Beyond the classroom, students who uncover healthcare challenges, are encouraged to bring their ideas forward for faculty mentorship. When ready, students have several grant and program opportunities to advance their innovation toward a functional prototype development and in some instances, file provisional and non-provisional patents. In addition to incorporating innovation within existing programs, I created and direct the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate Program designed for nurses and healthcare professionals. Through this program students identify scalable healthcare challenges, formulate prototypes, and explore appropriate pathways for advancing the innovation toward the healthcare marketplace. For me, it has been a joy to watch the first few cohorts tackle inefficiencies in their workplaces. One student said she had been innovating all along without realizing it, while another was thrilled that the certificate program gave her a roadmap to take her ideas through the process of innovation step-by-step. I would encourage anyone who has an interest in bringing positive change to healthcare to reach out to me and learn more about the program.
In addition to UConn School of Nursing, ANA identified nine other nursing schools across the United States who also incorporate innovation into the experiences of nursing students and faculty. However, for our profession to be able to scale innovation knowledge across the US to transform care challenges through nurses of all roles and experience levels, incorporating innovation into core curriculum should aim to be a standard for all nursing programs. In doing so, we will not only prepare future nurses to identify pervasive and systemic challenges that perpetuate the profession year after year but also work to solve these unmet needs that impact the quality of care delivered to patients, families, communities, and populations at large.