What are the Skills Needed to be a Nurse Innovator?
What skills do you need to be a nurse innovator? A great many things, though this question is a bit misleading as I firmly believe nurses already possess many of the skills necessary. In fact, I would argue that most nurses are already innovating, having an innovative prowess that is innate to the profession.
In nursing school, we learn about the nursing process, how to assess our patients, determine the problem, consider the plan to address the problem, intervene with a course of action, and then evaluate that action to determine its effect. After that, we re-assess and start again. What may not be evident is that we are also learning innovation skills, as the nursing process is remarkably similar to the innovation process of design thinking. Design Thinking is a 5-step iterative approach to generate creative solutions by empathizing with the end-users, defining the problem from their point of view, ideating solutions, prototyping those solutions, and then testing the solutions with the people for whom the problem affects and in the context where the problem occurs. Nurses have always had the skills to innovate; we just haven’t called it that.
The word “skill” is defined as “a learned power of doing something competently.” In regards to innovation, that learning comes through traditional education in the classroom, practical learning at the bedside (or where a nurse practices), and through non-traditional learning mechanisms such as hackathons, design sprints, and accelerators.
Though nurses already embody an innovator, these skills need to be encouraged and honed; that is why Penn Nursing is committed to infusing innovation competencies throughout the undergrad and graduate curriculums. And I would imagine why, in the recently released Future of Nursing 2020–2030, the authors call for nurses to be educated in human-centered design competencies and establish an innovation mindset.
At Penn Nursing, we are doing this in several ways; for our undergraduate students, we have begun to include design thinking language and assignments throughout various classes, such as with our Pediatric Nursing course. Students receive a design thinking primer in this course and then create a care plan using the design thinking methodology.
Additionally, we run a course called Innovation in Health: Foundations of Design Thinking, a case study course for upper-level undergraduate nursing students and open to all upper-level undergraduate and graduate students across the University. Through this semester-long course, nursing students work with other interdisciplinary students — and stakeholders — to create solutions to the problems they see in their practice.
For our accelerated BSN-to-PhD students, we have the Hillman Scholars in Nursing Innovation program. This program is “designed to produce the next generation of nurse innovators dedicated to making health care more effective, patient-centered, and equitable.” The Hillman Scholars Program integrates innovation into the curriculum along with offering multidisciplinary immersive experiences and mentored support.
Brand new this fall, we are launching our DNP Executive Leadership (DNP EL) Design Thinking Institute. The DNP EL program will include a foundation based on the framework of design thinking, integrated throughout the 2-year curriculum.
To help all nurses learn about nursing innovation and the human-centered approach of Design Thinking, we also created the Design Thinking for Health (DT4H) platform in collaboration with the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation. The DT4H platform is a free, online, open-access resource to equip nurses, nursing students, and healthcare organizations with the resources, knowledge, and tools needed to encourage an innovation mindset and build that skill set.
In-class education is not the only way to learn, though. Therefore, we encourage our nursing students, faculty, and staff to take their ideas to the next level by participating in innovation events, such as our Penn Nursing Innovation Accelerator. This program provides funding, mentorship, and education and is a crucial component of the design thinking mentality of learning by doing. Through this 10-month program, teams work with mentors and stakeholders to create, prototype, and test their innovations.
Additionally, we encourage our students, faculty, and clinicians to get involved in events such as the B.PHL Innovation Festival, the Nurse Hack 4 Health, and the many other innovations, entrepreneurship, and design activities that take place both on Penn’s campus and beyond. There is no lack of active learning opportunities for nurses to hone their skills in the innovation space!
Many skills can be taught in the classroom and by actively doing, but being an innovator is more than a skillset…it is a mindset. This mindset consists of persistence, creativity, grit, flexibility, and teamwork. But first and foremost, it begins with a belief, a belief that you are capable of innovating and leading in this space. Nurses must start to see themselves as leaders in health and healthcare innovation and as entrepreneurs who can take their innovations and scale them up and out. Innovation takes confidence and support — we believe in the ability of all nurses to use their natural abilities to solve the problems they see in their practice and to improve health and healthcare for all.
Marion Leary, MSN, MPH, RN, is Director of Innovation, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
(This story originally appeared in NursingWorld.org.)