I would make a wager that most nurses don’t see themselves as innovators, even though we innovate all the time. In fact, nurses are probably some of the most creative, quick-thinking people in the workforce. Whether it’s determining the best way to move a patient, the best way to decrease the number of steps you’re taking, or working out how to prioritize sixteen different orders on four different patients, nurses are constantly analyzing and problem solving. From scrub designers to app designers, nurses are often the brains behind many of health care and technology’s latest developments.

Nurses are authors, musicians, engineers, podcast writers, and inventors. We are a creative bunch who are always trying to make life easier for our patients—and for ourselves. From innovative wound dressings to re-purposing gloves or hospital socks for off-label uses, we are always thinking outside the box. We just never realize it.

Because nurses work at such an individual level it is sometimes difficult for us to see how we could affect change at the system level. And it’s not our fault, either: The infrastructure to scale our solutions to the system-at-large is very underdeveloped. There aren’t many ways for us to showcase our ideas to help bridge gaps in health care. We need design-thinking workshops that let us develop our creative thinking and empower us to innovate. We need to highlight our diverse backgrounds, our unique work environments, and our drive to improve patient care delivery.

In your own nursing unit or department, you could start by thinking of a problem. What irritates you every day? Is there a flow issue in your unit? Do you see any glaring areas for improvement? For example, think about how many steps you take per shift. Could resources be shifted or moved so that you and your colleagues can take fewer steps? Imagine what you need to be more efficient. After all, necessity is the mother of invention—and innovation, too. All ideas are potentially valuable: trust yourself and feel empowered to share your thoughts and innovations with others. The future of health care depends on it.

If you are interested in learning more about health care innovations, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation is hosting a free program on March 16th with a panel of innovative problem solvers. If you are in the DC area, you can attend the event (and find more details here). If you aren’t a DC local, you may visit the Lemelson Center online to find program highlights or to explore multimedia content.

Laura Kinsella

Laura Kinsella, BSN, RN, CEN, is an emergency room nurse in Washington, DC.

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