This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.
Every day, nurses craft devices out of ordinary materials and hospital supplies to improve health care. These innovations aren’t dreamt up in a lab or by some research facility, they happen in the trenches, at the bedside. Innovation has been a tradition in the nursing profession ever since Florence Nightingale revamped the caregiver role into a respected occupation. Hundreds of articles were published beginning in the early 1900s where nurses shared their own hardware creations with their peers—in 1952 the American Journal of Nursing recorded an event that smacked of ingenuity when it ran a piece that described nurse Paulette Drummonds’ idea to create colorful casts for children.
The trend of nurse ingenuity continued over the years, but somewhat inconspicuously. Today, these nurse creations are often unheralded, denigrated as ’workarounds’ or invisible to bosses and others in the health care system who might benefit from the innovations. This lack of recognition for nurse innovation stirred something in Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young, the duo that created MakerNurse—a project that has its home in the Little Devices Lab at MIT and is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
“We know from our research that some of the best DIY technologies being used in hospitals and clinics around the world are the work of nurses. Yet these stealth innovators do not receive the recognition, support, tools, or training that they need to maximize their ability to transform the way health care hardware is created and used,” says Gomez-Marquez.
Across the nation, nurses are putting their creativity to work as they devise new ways to improve patient care. They are reimagining their supply closet, making custom bandages with advanced antibacterial properties and adapting devices for pediatric care. They are using everyday materials to make patients better, from Legos, to electrical belts, to a humble hospital blanket wrapped in medical tape to make a tiny donut that can cushion a child’s back.
“Nurse are creating these amazing just-in-time creations that are possible thanks to a combination of smart tools and good old fashioned making, customized to individual patients’ needs,” says Young.
MakerNurse hopes to bring these McGyverisms out of the shadows and into the mainstream. It is documenting cases of nurse making to understand more fully how nurses hack, what materials they use, and the obstacles to bringing their ideas into the light.
“We’re trying to understand what drives how those solutions are created at the bedside. What are the motivators, behaviors, and situations that compel a nurse to make? What materials did they use? How do they share their solutions?” says Gomez-Marquez. “We’re hearing from nurses around the country and, as we learn, we’re able to identify tools and prototyping strategies that could help more nurses bring their ideas for improving health care to fruition.”
MakerNurse has set up seven pilot projects in hospitals around the nation to record the solutions nurses are devising to address the various problems that they face. Using advanced prototyping strategies, the Little Devices’ team has deployed a variety of tools and shared methods with nurse units to assist nurses in moving from story to sketch to prototype. It is also collecting nurse stories via its website, a central repository that serves as a nation-wide resource for nurse makers. And in the coming months, it will launch MakerNurse Create, a set of step-by-step instructions on how to make a variety of health-related tools to help kick-start nurses’ medical ingenuity.
“We must nurture the ingenuity of nurses and other makers so we can all benefit from their innovations to improve health,” said RWJF’s Lori Melichar.
Some call them tinkerers, some call them hackers, but all should recognize the contributions that passionate makers are bringing to health care. Have you ever seen a tennis ball on the back feet of a walker? Someone hacked that walker—they don’t come over-the-counter with a tennis ball fitted.
Have you created anything to help you care for sick family members at home? What are your ideas for hacks that could improve the way doctors, nurses and others care for their patients? Tell us in the comments below!
Interested in health related citizen science? There are a number of other projects that are seeking your input as a citizen scientist. The projects below are part of a database of more than 800 citizen science projects created and managed by SciStarter, an online citizen science hotspot.