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maker nurse

stop thoughts: we need Maker culture in healthcare

note. introducing a new category on this blog: < /stop> thoughts. < /stop> thoughts are those ideas you hear that make you stop, cock your head, blink a few times and then feel goosebumps while your brain goes in a different than you had thought about before. In < /stop> thoughts, I’ll share concepts, often loosely defined, which I think have massive potential to disrupt, improve or otherwise positively effect healthcare.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to over 300 cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, nurses and their administrative partners at the Bon Secours Heart and Vascular Institute’s annual conference.


Anna Young was one of the other speakers. Anna represents MIT’s Little Devices Lab and its MakerNurse initiative. MakerNurse draws its name and inspiration from the maker movement.

Maker is all about DIY culture —making things, hacking things, inventing things. The movement an online magazine, Make, and several annual Maker Faire events, billed as the greatest show and tell ever. I often think my 90-something grandmother should be in the Maker movement. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t hack something, like adding a big rubbery grip to a fork to make it easier to hold. That’s what being a maker is all about.


MakerNurse draws on the realities of nurses and nursing. Every day nurses hack their environment to improve patient care. For instance, in Anna’s slide deck, she showed a picture of a nurse who figured out that office supply clips were perfect for holding small oxygen cannula to the beanies that babies wear in the NICU. The clips keep the cannula in place. In another example, nurses in some developing countries are using empty plastic soda bottles as spacers for inhalers.

And, we don’t have to stop at nurses.

Recently I spoke with a pharmacist friend who is most certainly a maker. She heard about a nurse in her hospital’s PACU who was using wintergreen oil to help patients overcome nausea (clearly a MakerNurse!). My pharmacist friend was inspired to incorporate her complementary medicine training into the hospital’s pharmacy. So she purchased bulk aromatherapy oils and dabbed a little onto cotton balls. She put the cotton balls in plastic sandwich bags. Then, she took the bags around the hospital and stopped people —environmental services, nurses, maintenance, execs —and had them test the aromatherapy. Now she wants to give them scented cotton balls-in-baggies to patients to help combat side effects from medications, or as a simple relaxation aid.

Here’s the < /stop> thought:

What if every hospital adopted a maker culture and rewarded new ideas, inventions and devices with as much emphasis as we reward a traditional career progression? What if hospitals provided employees, even patients and families, with tools and spaces to help them make new things and quickly test them out?

In healthcare, we often think vertically about careers and progressions. In the clinical environment we call it practicing at the top of the license. For instance, nurses should give injections rather than doctors, so doctors can use their time to do the things only doctors can do. When everyone is practicing at the top of their license —doing the things they are uniquely qualified to do —the system is, in theory, more efficient.

But, MakerNurse demonstrates is we can have a different type of value in our roles. For nurses, practicing at the top of their license means doing more direct patient care, clinical navigation, etc. Being a maker, by hacking processes and systems and building new things out of nicknacks, provides another avenue for nurses to contribute to improving healthcare; and that path is perhaps less limited by regulations and licenses.

If we, as an industry, valued that kind of DIY attitude, think about how many great ideas would be born, tested and put into practice? Might it also contribute to a different sort of career path or sense of professional fulfillment? What if patients were also encouraged and given tools to hack new things to improve their own care?

So, which hospital is going to be the first MakerHospital?