How to create the 'aha moment' most nurses are missing: 5 questions with ANA's VP of innovation

When Bonnie Clipper, DNP, RN, asks a room full of nurses if they consider themselves to be innovators, the response is usually the same: only a few people raise their hands.

When she asks nurses if they've ever had to do a workaround or "MacGyvered" something to take care of a patient, many more hands go up.

"Nurses are natural innovators, but few see themselves that way," said Dr. Clipper, who serves as vice president of innovation for the American Nurses Association.

Dr. Clipper stepped into the newly created executive role at ANA in August 2017 after spending more than 20 years as a chief nursing executive at hospitals and health systems. Her first undertaking at ANA was the creation of a three-part framework to help recognize more nurse innovators' accomplishments and inspire their peers. 

Here, Dr. Clipper discusses the importance of cultivating nurse innovation and leadership with Becker's Hospital Review.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What drew you to the field of nursing? How do you think the role of nurses has changed since you first joined the profession?

Dr. Bonnie Clipper: I've been in nursing for more than 30 years, and I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 6. I have pictures of me in my pajamas wearing a nurse cap and a plastic stethoscope. I was just naturally drawn to it.

Nurses are really smart individuals with amazing skill sets. They know how to assess and prioritize. They are incredible critical thinkers and problem solvers. The nursing practice and nurses' role in healthcare has become much more complex in the last three decades. As patient care becomes more complex and difficult to deliver, nurses continually rise to the occasion. 

Q: How is the healthcare industry falling short in terms of promoting nurse innovation?

BC: We know nurses tend to be underrepresented in the innovation space. We need to teach nurses from the start that they are, in fact, innovators as much as anyone else on the care team. Also, creating more opportunities for nurses to get involved in the design and development of technologies is critical. There are four times as many nurses as physicians in healthcare. Yet so often, when tech companies are designing products or disposables, they go to the physicians. Of course, it makes sense when physicians are the end user. However, nurses are oftentimes the end users. So, we really need to start bringing them into those conversations. 

Q: What is ANA doing when it comes to innovation?

BC: We are working on an innovation framework with three tenets: Igniting nursing innovation, highlighting innovation and cultivating future nurse innovators. To us, it's a three-legged stool. We need to educate nurses and help them develop innovation competencies. We also want to introduce nurses to innovation through innovation labs, NursePitch™ events or hackathons to show them they can do it. The goal is for nurses to have an "aha moment" that, yes, they have ideas and they can advance this work. We also want to celebrate the work nurses do as innovators.

We developed the ANA Innovation Awards with our corporate partner, BD [Becton, Dickinson and Co.]. We want to bring more attention to nurses' brilliant ideas and insights. Through this framework, we believe we will bring more nurses to the innovation space and help them cultivate that skill set so we can transform healthcare together.

Q: A 2018 NEJM Catalyst survey found nurses fill less than 25 percent of leadership roles at most healthcare organizations. How can health systems cultivate more nurse leaders, especially among millennials?

BC:  Nurses' ability to provide quality patient care and their knowledge of the healthcare delivery system is unmatched. We need to make the effort to bring them in, not only to leadership ranks such as supervisors, managers and directors, but also as chief nursing officers, CEOs, COOs, etc.

For millennials, I think it will be about meeting them where they are. Trying to find ways to bring them into leadership roles and also making sure they're finding value in their work will be important. This may mean we need to redesign leadership roles or look at them differently. But we really have no choice but to engage aspiring nurse leaders into higher ranks going forward.

Q: How can healthcare executives promote nurses' resilience and overall well-being in the workplace?

BC: When we start with design thinking, the first step is empathy. So often, our work processes and systems don't start with empathy of our own staff. When we build these systems and processes, we need to make sure we set them up in such a way that allows clinicians to be successful. Our program Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation encourages organizations to build processes to improve the well-being of all caregivers.

We often include many steps and algorithms that make sense in a logical manner, but prove difficult to do when you're the end user. For me, it always goes back to making sure the people affected by these processes are involved in the design. That way, we know they'll be set up to be successful. 

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