News in Nursing

Nurse Scientists and Nurse Engineers Pioneering New Territory in Patient Care

Nurse Scientists and Nurse Engineers Pioneering New Territory in Patient Care

In the field of healthcare, nurses provide a unique perspective on policy-making and the best practices since they come in contact with patients most often. However, that is just the beginning.

Nurses are also trailblazers in the areas of research and innovation. They bring with them the wisdom that comes from patient care while collaborating with other healthcare professionals. In other words, they would truly understand what exactly is needed to make the completion of tasks related to patient care more efficient while enhancing the patient’s experience and outcome. Therefore, they are playing an ever-increasing role in innovation and invention.

Creating New Devices

Between 1865 and 2003, 42 nurses have created 94 new contraptions that have made vast improvements in healthcare. These are just a few of the inventions that nurses have accomplished:

  • Neonur: a device that measures the patterns of breathing, sucking, and swallowing that can indicate issues in the development of premature babies; this has greatly decreased the risk of failure to thrive for many newborns
  • Bili-Bonnet: a compression net covering for a baby’s head that keeps eye guards from slipping which decreases the risk of exposure to ultraviolet light; this is used for babies being treated for jaundice
  • Aqua-Box: a canister that is mounted to the wall and is used to hold contaminated liquids that can be treated with a disinfectant for safer disposal
  • Crash cart: invented in 1968 by Anita Dorr, RN, a cart that holds and transports the defibrillator and resuscitation equipment used in emergency rooms
  • Color-coded IV lines: until 2003 when two nurses received the patent for their invention, IV lines were all made of clear plastic; now, the color coding system reduces medical errors, especially in an emergency situation when time is of the essence in identifying the necessary medication
  • Disposable liners for baby bottles: in the 1940’s, a nurse at Columbia Hospital came up with an idea for a liner that would hold milk and collapse as a baby drank a bottle; this would keep a baby from getting more air than milk thus making feeding more efficient
  • Feeding tube for paralyzed patients: invented during the WWII, this tube allowed paralyzed patients to bite down on in order to feed themselves, thus allowing for a bit more independence.

Given these examples, one can see how these innovated creations not only improved the quality of patient care but also simplified some of the tasks undertaken by nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Contributing to Medical Research

Aside from designing life-saving contraptions, nurses also work with teams of medical researchers to set up practices that are evidence-based and proven to be successful.One such example that took place at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. In the NICU, the alarm would go off on the device that monitors the oxygen levels in the baby’s blood. Although, the purpose of this signal is to let medical personnel know that the levels have dipped even slightly, it is enough to cause a great amount of concern for the new parents. This has prompted nurses to research further into the effects of these constant alarms and how to improve this system of monitoring where it is more balanced.

Another example relates to both hospital policy and education for new parents. Nurses played a major role in researching possible causes of SIDS which led to the discovery that babies are safer when they are placed on their backs to sleep.

Thus, one can see that there is a definite need for pathway of study that allows future nurses to participate in this ever-growing trend of applying practice and ingenuity to improve healthcare.

Rethinking Degree Plans

So one might wonder how to break into the areas of technology and research. To begin with, a pathway for nurses to further their education in any one of these fields has always existed. It takes more time, money, and multiple degree plans, though. There are many opportunities for applying the skills associated with nursing to the production of new devices and instruments and the establishment of new or improved methods of treatment. A nurse would have to pursue a degree in any one of the areas of engineering or science.

However, for the most part, a nurse would have to obtain these credentials separately—one degree for nursing and another for engineering, for example. The obvious solution to this situation would be a dual-degree program.  This opens up the prospect that a student can simultaneously work towards credentials for nursing while also studying science or engineering. With solid curricula and instruction, combined with practical experience, students can get a firm foundation in order to become nurse scientists or nurse engineers.

With dual degree programs in place, a whole other group of RN’s would enter the workforce better prepared to solve a variety of issues related to patient care. Or these graduates would be ready to assist in ground-breaking research that leads to a higher number of treatment options.

Already, more colleges and universities are catching on to this growing trend and have implemented dual degree programs.

Duquesne University

Duquesne was one of the first institutions to establish to a dual degree program. They offer a 5-year format for obtaining an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and nursing. This degree plan allows a student to not only learn the skills related to the advancement of medical treatment but also gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting which would further enhance an engineer’s ability to solve issues in the realms of diagnostics and therapy. Furthermore, students will have opportunities to explore life-saving and cost efficient technology that would improve healthcare in developing countries.

Upon gaining entrance, students would first complete their studies toward the biomedical engineering degree, and then, during their final year, students would work toward their nursing degree. By the fifth year, they will have earned a Bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

The Maker Nurse Program

The Maker Nurse Program is an initiative that supports the ingenuity and opportunities for problem solving that come naturally with the nursing field. Through this program, nurses gain opportunities to collaborate with experts who the resources to create prototypes of their innovative ideas. Examples of this teamwork have occurred in many healthcare institutions and universities such as:

  • Texas Tech University Health System
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Maimonides Medical Center
  • Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi

These just name a few, and many more are partnering with this movement to enable nurses to bring their innovative ideas into practice.

University of Detroit Mercy Colleges of Nursing and Engineering

These two departments of the University of Detroit Mercy collaborate to create assistive devices for disabled individuals. This prime example of teamwork allowed for the students to participate in an interdisciplinary project where nursing students could apply and share their knowledge of patient care while engineering students could assist in the building of life-changing contraptions like the Wheelchair Escalator. Furthermore, projects, such as these, can serve to build interest in two high-demand fields—medical and STEM.

In the end, nurses are in an excellent position to come up with new ideas for inventions that save lives or creating solutions for patient care issues. With a solid foundation of education and training, nurses can gain even more opportunities to become the scientists, engineers, and inventors who will pave a positive future for healthcare.