Devices & Technology

Innovative Nurses Take Charge in Today’s Technological Workplace

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By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor

May 20, 2011 - Nurses possess so many professional and personal qualities that make them champions in a health care setting, including multitasking skills, passion and efficiency, to name a few. It turns out that these are also some of the key attributes that make for a successful entrepreneur, business owner or innovator, and may be part of the reason that nurses are being tapped by technology manufacturers for input on device development and taking the initiative to form their own companies.

Here’s a look at some of the ways nurses are taking their unique skills beyond the bedside and into the business world to lend their expertise to the latest technological innovations.

From ER Nurse to Online CE Entrepreneur 

Ann Thompson, RN, became a nurse in 1977, long before the age of the Internet. In her 22 years in hospital nursing, Thompson worked extensively in multiple units until her last hospital role as an emergency room manager at a rural hospital in Ukiah, Calif. After more than two decades, she was looking for something new.

“I just wanted to try something I could do at home,” Thompson said. “After so many years, I felt like I had been to every continuing education class available and at that point I wished I could take them online. I started my company with that in mind.”

Thompson founded Wild Iris Medical Education in 1999, offering accredited continuing education (CE) units to nurses looking for the convenience of computerized education. As the World Wide Web became a household term and Wild Iris faced increasing competition in the online CE arena, Thompson’s company expanded to offer continuing education for nursing case managers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, paramedics, EMTs and other health care professionals.

Thompson credits her background in nursing and as a volunteer firefighter for the success of her business, as well as one critical skill she honed at the bedside. “It was the talent all nurses have: multitasking,” she said. “I certainly use that on a daily basis with my company.” 

For other nurses interested in taking their ideas out of the hospital and into their own business, Thompson recommended utilizing resources like the National Nurses in Business Association and networking with other like-minded professionals to get the idea off the ground.

“Absolutely go for it,” she said. “It takes time--longer than you think and more money than you think--but it can be done.”

From Clinician to Corporate Communicator 

As health care technology firms continue to develop devices to improve the patient experience or workplace efficiency, more and more companies are tapping into the expertise of the clinicians who would use their products to determine their usability. Vocera Communications, Inc., based in San Jose, Calif., is just one example of an organization that is leveraging the unique skills and knowledge of nurses to bring its products to market.

With 18 nurses on staff in the roles of clinical application specialists and clinical solutions consultants, as well as Chief Nursing Executive Christine Gamlen, RN, MSN, Vocera relies on clinical expertise for its success.

“By engaging clinicians to bring that health care knowledge, we have been able to turn ourselves into a solutions company rather than a technology company,” said Gamlen, who was the first nurse hired by the company nearly a decade ago.

At Vocera, which develops intelligent software solutions for use in communications devices such as badges, smart phones and other wireless devices in use in more than 700 hospitals, nurses are looked to for their input on design function and usability, as well as for their relationship-building skills in meeting with hospital clients and training clinical users. Vocera’s nurses go to hospitals and do clinical assessments to determine where their products can be used to impact patient and staff safety, throughput and efficiency.

“They help other clinicians realize how technology can enable a good patient experience,” Gamlen explained.

Gamlen believes that nurses are perfectly trained to work in technology, especially if they’re looking to make an even bigger impact than they can make at the bedside. 

“Nurses have the compassion for patient care and the passion for hard work, as well as the basic training to observe,” she said. “These are great values we can bring to technology and informatics. We can help give other nurses the technology that allows them to do what they went to nursing school to do: provide the best patient care.”

With nursing informatics as one of the fastest growing areas of nursing, Gamlen recommends using resources available from informatics organizations like HIMSS and ANIA-CARING and encourages other nurses with an interest in innovation to pursue a career in health care technology, just as she has.

“I love using all of my nursing skills, even though I’m not at the bedside,” she said. “It’s an enlightening thing to learn about technological solutions that can really help people.”


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