Nurse innovators (yes, it’s a real job)

Marion Leary, MSN, MPH, RN, FAHA, understands the positive impacts innovation can have on the future of healthcare.

“My role is to create innovation, cultivate and grow innovative partnerships and prepare current faculty and staff, as well as the next generation of nurses, as innovators,” said Leary, who recently assumed the role of Penn Nursing’s first director of innovation.

Innovation is the application of a new idea or the adoption of an existing idea in a new way. In the field of nursing science, innovation might involve developing something new or adapting an old technology, approach, system or process. It’s broad and usually doesn’t happen in a silo, according to Leary.

The results of these and other collaborations could lead to changes in how nurses care for patients, get their training, teach others, communicate with patients and families and more.

Shining light on the nurse innovator role

Leary is meeting with partners throughout the university, including at the schools of engineering, design, medicine, the graduate school of education and others. She also is nursing’s voice on the Penn Health-Tech Executive Committee, which fosters health innovation at the school.

“You need interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary partners to move any innovation forward,” she said.

Marion Leary, RN

Leary, who previously directed Penn’s innovation research for the Center for Resuscitation Science, said she and colleagues studied how to integrate virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, social media, podcasting and more into the department’s research and education efforts.

“I’m still enrolling for a study for a grant that I received while I was there using an augmented reality wearable headset — the Microsoft HoloLens,” she said. “We are comparing augmented reality CPR training with standard manikin CPR training.”

The way innovation works is this: Researchers integrated the HoloLens into a feedback manikin. As the trainee is performing CPR, data from that feedback manikin is rendered through the HoloLens, which then projects back onto the manikin as a holographic image of the circulatory system. The trainee giving CPR can visualize the blood flow to the brain and vital organs based on the actual quality of CPR they are performing, Leary said.

Augmented reality is but one exciting area in nursing innovation. Some others involve the use of big data and precision medicine.

Eyeing the role? Here are some tips to prepare

Some innovations have made history, such as the electric light bulb, the printing press and the compass.

But innovation occurs at all levels of society and in healthcare. To remain competitive, hospital systems to community clinics rely on ideas that help drive efficiency, reduce costs and improve patient care.

Nurses can and should be at the forefront, according to Leary.

“Especially in the healthcare system and in the community, nurses do workarounds all the time. We just don’t call it innovation, but that’s what they’re doing and that’s what they’ve always done,” Leary said. “Now we’re just looking at making it more formalized.”

The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, in honor of the first nurse innovator Florence Nightingale.

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