We Just Jumped – April 2021
So how does a leading School of Nursing go from a few bullet points on a white board to having a vibrant innovation program boasting over a dozen nurse innovators, eight newly registered inventions and three new product launches in just under two years? The short answer is, like parachutists in a freefall, we just jumped.
By Olga Yakusheva & Ann Fitzsimons
Director & Innovation Portfolio and Engagement Specialist of the
Healthcare Innovation Impact Program (HiiP)
University of Michigan School of Nursing
It was late summer of 2018 when three women, a nurse, a nursing economist, and a local business expert with a love for nurses, sat together in a small conference room in front of a whiteboard with three bullet points on it: Do we need an innovation program?, Will it be of value to our faculty and students?, If yes, what would it look like? Our analytical minds, used to well-defined goals and budgets, were in a completely uncharted territory. Looking back, this was an incredible moment, a moment when three people from very different backgrounds came together around a shared vision of nurses from all ranks and files, making the world a better place through innovation. The seed of what would later become the Healthcare Innovation Impact Program (HiiP) was planted.
During first year, we delved into exploration: we engaged a small group nursing faculty with personal hands-on experience in innovation and entrepreneurship. Another group of nursing faculty volunteered to be our “test subjects” as the first cohort of HiiP Innovation Fellows. What we learned from our “boots on the ground” work with Innovation Fellow was largely informed our thinking about the Program. Our main challenge was that we had to start work on advancing the innovations of the first cohort of Innovation Fellows while we built the program at the same time, not having a clear idea what future challenges and opportunities would await us. During our first year we gathered and synthesized an enormous amount of knowledge about the strengths of nurse innovators and now these strengths could be amplified in new ways.
First and foremost, we quickly learned that nurse innovation isn’t for the faint of heart, so to speak. From preconceived but false notions that good ideas must all be financially lucrative, to improving but still limited recognition and funding for nurse innovation, to a dare lack of innovation and entrepreneurship resources that play up the strengths of nurses and, frankly, even fit into a nurse’s incredibly tight schedules, nurse innovators face an unfair disadvantage compared to other disciplines like business, engineering, or even medicine. To amplify nurse innovation and poise nurse innovators for maximum impact on healthcare, we had to level the playing field.
And so it began. Instead of a one-size-fit-all program, we created our Innovation Coach Model. Our business consultant, a seasoned marketing research and innovation professional, works with our Innovation Fellows one-on-one, helping them refine their ideas and mapping out pathways forward and utilizing identified the resources needed and available to them on campus. We do not judge ideas, we work with all innovators equally and put them in the driver’s seat deciding their own journey and destination. Our motto is “We meet each innovator where they are, and take them as far as they want to go.” As a coach, we walk the path with each innovator, supporting, guiding, and cheering each innovator along the way. We define success by experiences and knowledge gained during the journey, not by the outcome. Each innovator proved unique, as were their ideas, which made our work fun but also challenging as no two pathways, and the type of support we provided, was the same. HiiP simply could not be a cookie cutter innovation and entrepreneurship program. As one innovator, an internationally regarded nurse researcher and expert in their field, once said “please don’t leave me alone in this!”
Fast forward two years to the present day, we have learned more than we can share here, but there are a few hard-earned nuggets worth passing along:
- Meet the nursing Innovators where they are; create personalized, supportive innovation pathways flexed to their personalities and their innovative programs/products/services.
- Realize a program like this is as much about empowering and equipping the nurse innovators as it is about moving their innovations through the pathway; and
- If the resources and support are available, walk this journey with them—attend meetings with key resources with them and coach, counsel and connect them to what they need for their ideas to be successful.
While this has been a long and winding road for us. As frightening as it was, we made a blind leap into innovation, innovating our own pathway along the way. We are pleased with our progress and we make sure to celebrate each and every success, big and small. We all know that it’s nurses who will lead the charge to transform healthcare, so if you don’t already have a nursing innovation program and you think, or know, you need one, strap on your parachute and just jump—the flight is incredible and oh so worth it.