Celebrating Innovation in Nursing
Written by Kirby Cunningham, RN, Senior Product Manager, MatrixCare
It is essential to understand that individuals who choose nursing as a profession do so for the love of others and the gratification of seeing those they care for recover and thrive. It is also important to know that nurses are some of the most innovative people on the planet. Who would have thought that Florence Nightingale– a statistician by trade, could have made such a significant impact on the lives of so many?
Florence Nightingale and her band of nurses were and still are, responsible for some of the most innovative changes in healthcare, such as documenting the delivery of services, prevention of disease, and administering kindness at the inevitable, end of life.
Here are just a few of the innovative items and practices that have come from nurses throughout history:
The nurse’s cap was initially invented to decrease the spread of lice from nurse to patient. That’s right, nurse to patient! The dimensions of the cap derived from careful study of how high a louse could jump. The cap was then made so that lice could not jump over the prominent rim, thus reducing and almost eliminating the spread of head lice!
During the Crimean War, Nightingale found three things appalling in British Hospitals: diet, dirt, and drains. She then set out to correct these problems! Improved food was given to the injured, hospitals were cleaned, fresh clothing was supplied, and the drains for the toilets and sinks were cleared and sanitized. These steps seem like common practice BUT it did not happen until Nightingale assessed the situation and instructed her nurses to fix it.
Bessie Griffin invented the feeding tube for paralyzed veterans. Veterans without limbs returned home after WWII and could not eat on their own, so she designed a tube that supplied small bites of food to the user by just biting down on the tube for the next bite!
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As an emergency department nurse, Anita Dorr was alarmed to see how long it took for staff to gather and use items needed in emergent situations. She created a list of the items required to treat critically ill patients, built a mock-up of an equipment cart with her husband as a weekend project, and with a few modifications, this ‘crash cart’ has been incorporated into use by hospitals everywhere.
Danish nurse, Elise Sorensen’s little sister, Thora, had colon cancer. After surgery, Thora faced life with an ostomy appliance for her waste which, with the equipment available, often smelled bad and leaked. Elise created a solution for her sister in 1954: a plastic pouch that she could adhere to her body. The invention has helped those who’ve had ostomy surgery live healthy lives ever since.
In the early 2000s, Terri Barton-Salinas and Gail Barton-Hay were working with critically ill and injured patients and found it very difficult to quickly and accurately identify the various IV lines connected to a patient. So what did they do? They patented color-coded IV lines called “ColorSafe IV Lines” in 2003.
Denise Felsenstein tested an invention that made a considerable difference in improving access to care for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals in a community in Minneapolis, MN. This innovation wasn’t a new electronic medical records system or a mobile app. It was a sign with an image of a rainbow that read, “All are Welcome.” This sign was placed outside an ambulatory care center to make patients feel more comfortable seeking healthcare at that clinic. Now, this sign can be found across the city of Minneapolis.
It is the ability to be resourceful even in the wake of an epidemic that makes student nurse Fatu Kekula, an example of innovation inspired by ultimate necessity. When her father became frighteningly ill and hospitals in Liberia were at full capacity, Fatu had no choice but to treat him, and eventually the rest of her family, at home with limited resources. Following the guidance of her family doctor who refused to come to her house but would help over the phone, Fatu became the only hope for saving her entire family. Plastic trash bags, a pair of rain boots, a rain jacket, and a mask transformed into the daily uniform that kept Fatu safe from contracting what would later be identified as the Ebola virus. Following the meticulous daily process of ensuring her gear was as protective as possible, Fatu saved her family by providing medications obtained at a local clinic and administering fluids through intravenous lines she started herself— before she had even finished nursing school.
The next time you have to opportunity to thank a nurse, please do so. Their innovations have bettered the lives of many and continue to impact us tremendously. Finally, please remember this quote from my mentor…
Be thankful for nurses because ‘in the end’, a nurse will always be there.