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Nursing Educators Must Infuse Innovation Into Their School's Program, Penn Nursing Leaders Say

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   January 24, 2022

Authors of a new Journal of Professional Nursing article provide strategic steps to build an infrastructure that supports innovation.

For nurses to lead in health and healthcare innovation, nursing education must think strategically about the skills and knowledge required by the next generation of nurses and then embrace those innovation needs at all levels of research, education, and practice, says an article recently published in the Journal of Professional Nursing, authored by three nurse leaders at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing).

The article, Creating an Innovation Infrastructure in Academic Nursing, shares actionable steps to position nurses as leaders in this space and provides insight into how Penn Nursing has infused innovation into its mission and curriculum.

Nurses are natural healthcare innovators, and their understanding of patients, families, and communities provides a unique perspective to the use of technology and other innovative processes to promote health and well-being, prevent disease, and manage acute and chronic conditions, the article says.

Still, it adds, nurses are absent or often silent partners in health and healthcare innovation initiatives.

Many schools of nursing are integrating innovation into their curriculums and creating spaces for students and faculty to engage in the innovation process, but innovation must be a central driver of the nursing education provided across the country, according to the article.

"We must promote nurse-led innovation initiatives internally and externally, to amplify the work being done by nurses in education, research, policy, and practice," says the article’s lead author, Marion Leary, RN, MSN, MPH, FAHA, director of innovation at Penn Nursing.

"If we do this, we will achieve a clear, coherent, and unified message around nurse-innovation and further solidify the innovation ecosystem within the profession,” Leary says.

Making Innovation Part of the Mission

Because innovation means different things to different disciplines, the key to integrating innovation into a school of nursing is to develop a shared meaning of innovation within the university and healthcare community, the article says.

"Developing a disciplinary-specific perspective of innovation is a first step to guiding curricular changes and enhancements," says article coauthor Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing.

"This perspective will communicate to interdisciplinary colleagues and the public nursing’s role and focus in innovation, and can be used for forging partnerships to address specific issues and problems," Villarruel says.

Once the definition of innovation is adapted, the authors outline strategic steps to build an infrastructure that supports innovation. Those steps include:

  • Establish strategic goals to prioritize activities, align resources, communicate innovation, and serve as a progress benchmark.
  • Build an innovation infrastructure to systematize and embed a culture of innovation within the school.
  • Develop faculty and faculty champions of innovation.
  • Integrate innovation into administrative functions.
  • Build relationships across schools.
  • Marketing innovation expertise externally.
  • Transform research discoveries into practice.
  • Positions students to develop and lead innovations.
  • Enhance innovation education through active learning.
  • Position nurses to drive and inform innovations in health systems.

Penn Nursing as a Case Study

The authors share how Penn Nursing took the recommended steps to successfully define and infuse innovation into the school’s program. The first step was aligning with the University of Pennsylvania’s core values, one of which is innovation.

Infrastructure and cross-campus relationship-building soon followed, including engagement with other schools to build and support faculty and student innovation skills and projects.

Penn Nursing then created initiatives to inform the broader community about nursing innovation. Transforming research discoveries into practice remains an ongoing initiative.

The article further describes Penn Nursing’s focus on active learning to enhance innovation education and how the school of nursing leverages its practice partners to position nurses to drive and inform innovations in healthcare.

"The Future of Nursing 2020–2030 report highlights nurses as innovators and advocates for nurses to see themselves as such, while calling for leaders in health and healthcare to support nursing’s innovative aptitude," says article coauthor Therese S. Richmond, PhD, RN, FAAN, Andrea B. Laporte Professor of Nursing and Associate Dean for Research & Innovation.

"Therefore, as we move into the future," Richmond says, "it will be essential that we create a foundation of innovation for the next generation of nurse leaders."

“We must promote nurse-led innovation initiatives internally and externally, to amplify the work being done by nurses in education, research, policy, and practice.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Nursing schools must embrace innovation for the next generation of nurses.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) has infused innovation into its mission and curriculum.

A new article by three Penn Nursing nurse leaders shares actionable steps for other nursing schools to do the same.

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