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Igniting the Innovative Spark in Nurses through Mindset

Every day we read about new technologies and emerging companies working to bring their innovative solutions to market and solve health care challenges facing our health care professionals, patients, families, communities and populations at large. As we read these articles many of us might find ourselves wondering how someone even begins to develop a healthcare solution. We ask ourselves, ‘How do I invent a solution and bring it to life?’ or ‘Where do I start?’

For those reading, I can share from personal experience, I never considered myself as innovative or entrepreneurial, until I noticed a significant problem and couldn’t let it go. However, had I not had been in the right mindset, I could have missed a significant opportunity.

Thought leaders and leading entrepreneurs frequently discuss mindset. Gary Vaynerchuk, serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of VaynerMedia (https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/) mentions the word mindset often in his keynotes and digital recordings across all social platforms. Mindset is defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/mindset). An entrepreneurial mindset approaches problems as opportunities for improvement via solutions, and not as inconveniences that have to simply be put up with.

As a PhD nursing student at Duke University, my perspective was fundamentally changed during the course of my studies. We began the first semester identifying our research problem statements. Never before had I been taught to look at problems as research opportunities. Instead, I had been trained on how to be a nurse, how to be a nursing leader, and how to understand the different aspects of business. Yet, in a PhD program, I was being taught how to identify problems as opportunities for solutions that one could address over time through appropriate research methods.

In healthcare, we have so many opportunities for solutions (e.g., problems) that can’t wait for the new generation of nurses to undergo a shift in perspective, as I did when studying for my doctorate. Less than 1% of registered nurses hold PhD degrees (https://nursejournal.org/articles/the-future-of-nursing-infographic/ https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2013/06/a-new-generation-ofnursescientists–educators–and-transformat.html). So, how do we teach mindset to the other 99% of nurses who are faced with something that they could solve if given the right mindset toolkit?

One way to address this is by starting early in one’s nursing, medical or any other health related education. If one can learn how to use a stethoscope and assess a human being at 18 years of age, one can learn how to identify solvable problems that will inevitably appear daily. Why lose valuable time waiting until one is post-baccalaureate?

The University of Connecticut, School of Nursing has already begun this journey. UConn SON has been stimulating innovative thinking patterns and problem solving mindsets into undergraduate nursing students for the last several years. During their curriculum, undergraduate nursing students are challenged to identify healthcare problems and subsequently find innovative solutions. The students then form collaborative groups, which may include students from other complimentary disciplines to build their solution (e.g., engineering, business, information technology, computer science, etc.). The campus at UConn has a vibrant innovation ecosystem available to help support these student nurse innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.

UConn Nursing Undergraduate Potential Innovators

Christine Meehan, Adjunct Faculty at UConn, nurse entrepreneur, inventor and investor has seen the outcomes of such efforts from the nursing students and their Shark Tank activities. Stimulating the critical thinking skills and mindset of undergraduate nursing students has led to some noteworthy outcomes. Nursing students are identifying problems forming solutions and taking on big problems.

Pitching at the UConn SON Shark Tank

When I asked Christine to share some of her thoughts on the program she said: “Our
undergraduate students are eager to learn about innovation as freshmen, and we believe they can be well prepared before and after graduation to find novel solutions to healthcare issues.” Meehan went on to say, “I believe that nurses have some of the best ideas for improving our healthcare delivery system and only need the ‘tools’ to make their ideas a reality.”

Some may wonder what types of innovations undergraduate nursing students could identify before formally entering into the profession. I asked Christine to share some of the developments from her students. She shared three examples:

“Student innovations have developed into actual prototypes and include a device which non-invasively measures body hydration, a means to accurately measure the amount of breastmilk a baby consumes during each feed, and a novel way to help deter the spread of the Zika virus for underdeveloped countries.”

Nursing and Engineering Healthcare Collaboration Group

Several other nursing schools in the United States have begun approaching our nurses and nursing students in a variety of other ways to ignite the innovation spark. These nursing schools include (but are not necessarily limited to) Northeastern University, The Ohio State University, Arizona State University, University of Pennsylvania, and Drexel University.

One does not necessarily need to be in a classroom environment to ignite that innovation spark. One could already have the necessary mindset or find it on his/her own. However, by supporting our nurses with this process in a variety of formats, we are increasing the likelihood of seeing more nurse driven innovations infiltrate the marketplace in years to come. The American Nurses Association also recognizes the value in stimulating innovation in nurses as evidenced by their strategic goal for 2017-2020 of ‘stimulate and disseminate innovation that increases recognition of the value of nursing and drives improvement in health and health care’
(https://www.nursingworld.org/ana/about-ana/strategic-plan/). As a profession of 4 million nurses (https://www.nursingworld.org/ana/about-ana/), there are just too many of us touching the lives of individuals, families, communities and populations of people each day to not recognize  the potential impact we can have on influencing the future state of our health care environments through new technological advances.

Tiffany Kelley, Ph.D., MBA, R.N.

    Dr. Tiffany Kelley is Founder and CEO of Nightingale Apps, a health information technology company offering mobile applications to nurses working in hospital settings. She is also Founder and CEO of iCare Nursing Solutions LLC, which addresses the contemporary informatics needs of nurse leaders in health care organizations.

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