Q&A: 'For years nurses have been left out of the conversation'

Rebecca Love is an experienced nurse and entrepreneur that works in healthcare innovation. She is a strong advocate of the importance of nursing for the advancement of healthcare and was the first Director of Nurse Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the US at the Northeastern School of Nursing – the founding initiative in the country designed to empower nurses as innovators and entrepreneurs, where she founded the Nurse Hackathon. This movement has led to transformational change in the nursing profession. In early 2019, Love, along with a group of leading nurses in the world, founded and is President of SONSIEL: The Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs & Leaders, a non-profit that quickly attained recognition by the United Nations (UN) as an Affiliate Member to the UN. Healthcare IT News (HITN) took the opportunity to learn more about how nursing can continue to progress ahead of her keynote during the '2020: What a year for nurses and midwives!' session on 10 September.      

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HITN: How did you become a nurse innovator? Has innovation always been in your genes? 

Love: You don’t realise you are an innovator until you have work experience. When you start working as a nurse you are ridden at the patient’s bedside. As a nurse I felt that many things did not work and that with small changes one could improve patients’ lives. Being confronted with these challenges I created my first company (HireNurses.com). At that point I had no idea that I had become an entrepreneur.

HITN: When did you become aware that you were an innovator?

Love: The turning point was when a friend invited me to a health hackathon run by a major hospital in Boston. When I walked in I realised that it was full of smart people: physicians, engineers… but I was the only nurse in the room. I even asked myself if I should be there. I ended up joining a team and I learnt more in 56 hours than over the course of a year in business. I was the one that told the mentors that some of the solutions were not going to work. They realised that nurses were necessary to create good solutions as we were at the front line of the system.

I felt so inspired by this hackathon that I later created a nurses hackathon that turned out to be a great success. In the next two years some things started to change: we built the first nursing entrepreneurship programme in the US; the American Nurse Association appointed the first vice president of Innovation; and Johnson & Johnson started a campaign to recognise nurse innovation. In Google, the search “nurse innovation” went from 0 to 1.2 million hits a month.

HITN: Is the innovation delivered by nurses different from other professionals' innovation?

Love: Yes. There is a fundamental difference, which is that we put the wellbeing of the patients at the front. We don’t want to be millionaires, we want to solve problems that we were not given the opportunity to solve before. For years we have been left out of the conversation despite we are the end user of nearly every medical product. If we can change this inequality and have a seat at the table we can solve the problems healthcare has.

Nurses have always put the patient's needs above their needs. Fundamentally, when nurses innovate they come up with solutions that will transform patients’ lives.

HITN: The World Health Organisation has designated 2020 as the year of the Nurse and Midwife. Do you think the nursing profession needs to rethink itself?

Love: Absolutely. Florence Nightingale challenged the conventional medical practice of the time. She saved countless lives and put the foundation of our profession. Two hundred years later we have to challenge the status quo again. We have to teach nurses business and finances. We can’t leave the largest workforce in healthcare out of understanding business.

HITN: What role does technology play in this future change of mindset?

Technology is going to transform the way we work, both at the patients’ bedside and at an academic level. I believe nurses will bridge the gap between man and technology. For this, it is essential to change nursing education.

At the same time we are seeing a strong resistance about technology. In the last decades technology has created extra work for healthcare professionals and has destroyed their confidence. Now it has the opportunity to make patients’ lives better if we can solve the challenges of interoperability and data ownership.

HITN: How can nurses see themselves as innovators and not just as care providers?

Love: It’s all about giving nurses a seat at the table. Right now nurses have to confront everyday problems and they don’t have access to an attractive career pathway that makes them feel valued and appreciated. In the US, over 50% of nurses’ graduates leave the profession after two years because of their working conditions. Seventy-per-cent of the workforce is over 40 and we will be facing a shortage of nurses in the next 50 years as we don’t have enough students going into nursing school. It is really concerning.

We work in an environment that is not flexible to create innovative solutions. As nurses we don’t have the same conditions of the physicians in order to do research. Physicians can dedicate 10 hours of their 40 hours week to research; nurses are not allowed. We need to start treating nurses as all the other healthcare staff.

HITN: How can we change this?

Love: The only way to change is to bring this conversation to the table of the healthcare leaders. I can’t thank HIMSS enough for recognising the value that nurses can bring to healthcare and to give me the opportunity to address this conversation in front of the decision makers that will attend the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Event. 

The fact that nurses will reach an audience that needs to understand nursing in a new light – nurses have to be able to progress in their careers and feel valued so they can innovate.

Learn more at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Event taking place on 7-11 September 2020. 

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