American Nurse Journal welcomes Penn Nursing Director of Innovation, Marion Leary

Author(s): Marion Leary

Nurse Hackathons: Creating Solutions To Problems We See Everyday

When you see a problem in the health or healthcare setting who do you think will solves those?

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020 we watched as our healthcare systems soon became overwhelmed; there were massive shortages of ventilators as well as critical personal protective equipment (PPE). We watched as patients were separated from their families at their most desperate times. We watched as our healthcare providers worked to the brink of exhaustion and mental fatigue to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients, while risking the own health and welfare.

There is no doubt that nurses are vital to the healthcare system and crucial to the health of our communities. Yet, nurses very rarely are given the opportunity to take the lead when solving for the problems we faced pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. That is until now!

Nurses are creative, resourceful, and knowledgeable health and healthcare providers, who have a unique perspective on how these systems work. It is because of this trifecta of ability that innovation has become a “must have” in the nursing profession.

Because of that innovation prowess, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft and the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders (SONSIEL), along with DevUP, launched the Nurse Hack 4 Health: COVID19 virtual hackathon (NH4H) this past May, 2020. The NH4H was created specifically to give nurses a space to solve for the problems they were seeing in their practice everyday. The NH4H is designed to provide nurses the resources and connections needed to not only take their ideas from conception to implementation, but to build a community of other likeminded nurse innovations — something that a lot of nurses crave, but have never fully had.

For those who may not know, a hackathon is generally a 2.5 day event, which in pre-pandemic times was held in-person, starting on a Friday evening and running through a Sunday afternoon. A hackathon is a high intensity event that brings together developers, designers, programmers, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, and others — all in one space, working together over a weekend, to solve a problem.

Individual participants, or “hackers” can either pitch an idea that requires a solution, or they can join a team based on a topic area of interest. No experience is necessary, and newcomers are more than welcomed! The individuals who participate don’t necessarily know each other and can come from around the globe.

Teams of hackers work together over a weekend, some around the clock, to understand the problem, ideate solutions, and create low-fidelity prototypes. At the end of a hackathon all teams pitch their problem and solution to a panel of judges.

During hackathons teams work with mentors who guide them through the process and assist with everything from brainstorming potential solutions, to business plan development, to how to pitch, and much more. Educational opportunities are often available as well and can include topics such as how to use virtual and augmented reality, the foundations of design thinking, how to create a business model canvas etc. It is a weekend packed full of hard work but often times some play, with happy hours and other networking events occurring as well.

The NH4H is unique in that, due to COVID-19, the hackathon had to move to a virtual setting. In the past SONSIEL hosted a Nurse Hackathon with over 200 participants who met in-person, over a weekend in a designated location (i.e. New Brunswick, NJ or Boston, MA). Watch the video here to get inspired!

(An image of the over 200 participants from the in-person SONSIEL Nurse Hackathon in November, 2019.)

When COVID-19 hit, the opportunity for another in-person hackathon was no longer an option — but when do barriers and roadblocks ever stop nurses? So we did what every good nurse does, we reworked the solution and moved to a virtual setting. Partnering with Microsoft for the NH4H allowed us the perfect platform for a virtual hackathon, the Microsoft Teams platform. Using Microsoft Teams we continued a similar structure of hacking, engagement, collaboration, and networking that we had with our in-person hackathons.

(A Tweet from Molly McCarthy at Microsoft during the first NH4H in May 2020.)

The first NH4H took place on May 15–17, 2020 with over 500 nurses, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and others from around the globe designing the future. Over 30 teams worked over that weekend to create minimally viable products that would create a solution to a problems in one of the 5 pre-selected challenge areas related to the use of technology in the acute care setting, the community, and the home setting.

(Nurse Hack 4Health graphics for the May 2020 event.)

During the event, all NH4H teams are provided mentorship and a pitch coaching session to prepare for the final pitch on Sunday afternoon. During the final pitch session teams pitch their problem and solution to a panel of expert judges from around the globe and from a variety of backgrounds including venture capitalists, nursing, technologists and others.

To get a sense of what the first #NurseHack4Health: COVID19 virtual hackathon was really like, check out our Twitter archive here. You can also watch the videos of the final pitches from the winning teams here. You can listen to the origin story of NH4H on the Penn Nursing Amplify Nursing podcast here.

(Images of the winning teams from the first NH4H in May 2020.)

All of the solutions created during the NH4H are designated open-source, and at the end of the hackathon are uploaded to Github so that they can be immediately adapted and used by any individual, health, or healthcare system that is experiencing a similar problem. #techforgood

(Register for the Nurse Hack 4 Health here: https://nursehack4health.org/)

The next Nurse Hack 4 Health: COVID19 virtual hackathon is being held November 13–15, 2020 and will focus on Pandemic Management — Improving Education and Communication. This event is once again free and open to all nurses, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who has a passion to work with a community of likeminded individuals to create change. You can learn more and register to participate here: https://nursehack4health.org/

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, give a group of motivated, innovative, highly intelligent, and strongly convicted nurses an opportunity like this, and they will change the world — and that is exactly what happens at the the NH4H. I hope you will join us at the next NH4H and work with other nurses who know that when there is a problem in health and healthcare that needs to be solved, it is the nurse who will solve it.

Please watch a video about the upcoming Nurse Hack 4 Health here:

Marion Leary is the Director of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing. As the Director of Innovation at Penn Nursing she works to amplify and educate nurses as leaders in health and healthcare innovation. Ms. Leary is a member of the American Nurses Association’s Innovation Advisory Committee, a Founding member of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders (SONSIEL), a member of the American Heart Association’s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Innovation Subcommittee.

This past August 2019 she was named as an Influencer of Healthcare winner in the category of Excellence in Innovation by the Philadelphia Inquirer.  In 2017, she was named Geek of the Year for her outstanding achievements in Philadelphia’s vibrant geek community in the areas of innovation, technology, and activism.

Follow Marion on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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