A note from Engineer, RN – Re: The Nurse Engineer

I am a biomedical engineer with fifteen years of industry experience. In this role, I have had exposure to many industries and healthcare experiences. I have stood in operating rooms, worked on manufacturing floors, participated in innovation and business strategy sessions, and watched in awe as a product that I designed was placed on a baby of only 26 weeks of gestation. I coordinated the innovation efforts of a start-up company, launched a variety of devices into the market, and now have my own engineering consulting business.

Despite covering a lot of ground in the medical device industry, I have not had an impact on patient care that I had always hoped for. While countless solutions were extensively researched and crafted in the conference room, very few have been implemented on the front lines. All the hours I spent defining the state of the art, observing clinical environments, connecting with experts, filing intellectual property, and documenting lessons learned from patient trials, reside in neatly organized, quality controlled, three-ring binders. Most of this insight will neither be published for the benefit of the clinical community nor become incorporated into new products.

While I do not often hear directly from patients, I have not avoided the lament, frustration, or psychological wear that is associated with not meeting patient needs. I believe that whether people who pursue careers in healthcare work on the clinical front lines or behind the scenes, they share the desire to care for those in need and are disappointed when patient needs are not met. About three years ago, when the time had come for me to tackle this disappointment head-on, I began thinking about where to find the answers I sought. I realized that in the world of patient care devices, no one knows more than nurses.

To understand how to unite my engineering experience with that of nurses, I knew I needed to understand the secret sauce, the art of caring for patients. I needed to become a nurse. I am currently in my final semester of nursing school and will soon graduate with a Master of Nursing degree. So far, I’ve learned that my engineering skills marry perfectly with the nursing process.

Nursing school has reinforced my belief that nursing is innovating, and requires continuous problem-solving. For nurses to successfully manage patients and improve health while simultaneously juggling a myriad of tasks requires robust and continuous innovation. Yet, time constraints, lack of formal incentives, and the absence of a recognized innovation system limit nursing’s ability to refine and sustain their developments on the frontline. Nurses must have reliable tools and processes that enable the delivery of care at the moment. Engineers must have reliable information and requirements to supply the tools and processes that meet the need in time. I believe that together nurses and engineers have what it takes to innovate and transform the healthcare system.

To realize the power of this collaboration, I believe we need to embrace a boundary role that is specifically tasked and incented to ensure nurse innovations are properly utilized. Such a full time, permanent role in the clinical setting would empower collaboration with all healthcare stakeholders. This change agent, capable of functioning as both a nurse and engineer, the Nurse Engineer, is described in the clinical literature.1-13 Educational opportunities are now emerging to develop Nurse Engineers, and we will soon enter the workforce.
As I stand at the intersection of nursing and engineering roles, I attest that potential for the Nurse Engineer as a change agent is significant and worthy of implementation. As an engineer I had tested countless IV needless connectors, but I had never actually used one until I did my first saline flush in clinicals. It was at this moment that I fully grasped how interconnected nurses and engineers are in the care of patients. We need to bridge our professions and allow our innovations to flourish. To learn more and to share your thoughts on the Nurse Engineer role, please visit NurseEngineer.com.

1. Nurs Outlook. 1986 Jul-Aug;34(4):196-8. Needed: nurse engineers to link theory and practice. Harrell JS. [PubMed] 2. The American Nurse Today, 12(11), 50-51. 2017. Nurse-Scientists and Nurse-Engineers: Nurse- driven device innovations and inventions can improve patient care. Davis, C.R., & Smith Glasgow, M.E. [PubMed] 3. Comput Nurs. 1990 Jan-Feb;8(1):23-8. Expert nurses and expert systems. Research and development issues. Woolery L1. [PubMed] 4. Comput Nurs. 1993 Mar-Apr;11(2):67-71. The nurse engineer: a way to better nursing information systems. Hendrickson MF1. [PubMed] 5. AACN Clin Issues. 1997 Feb;8(1):71-7. The evolving health-care environment: new arguments for closer collaboration between cardiac surgical intensive-care nurses and clinical engineers. Kelly TJ1. [PubMed] 6. J Nurs Adm. 2004 Sep;34(9):423-7. The NEAT Project: Nursing Engineering Ambassador Team. Maxwell S1, Burns R Jr. [PubMed] 7. Nurs Times. 2006 Jun 27-Jul 3;102(26):36-9. The nurse’s role in contributing to new device development. Weir H1, Grocott P, Ram MB. [Link] 8. J Nurs Manag. 2010 Apr;18(3):248-57. Persistent isolationist or collaborator? The nurse’s role in interprofessional collaborative practice. Orchard CA1. [PubMed] 9. Prog Transplant. 2010 Jun;20(2):148-54. The role of a clinical engineer within a mechanical circulatory support device program: a single center’s experience. Princer K1. [PubMed] 10. Johns Hopkins Nursing. Summer of 2011. Latest in Hybrid Healthcare. Hill, M. [Link] 11. Industrial Engineer: IE, 47(8), 24. 2015. The time has come for nursing engineering. Eisenhauer, W. [Link] 12. Nurs Manag (Harrow). 2015 Jun;22(3):35-40. Evidence-based development in nurse-led interprofessional teams. Pilon B1, Ketel C, Davidson H. [PubMed] 13. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2018 Nov;50(6):601-611. Epub 2018 Sep 17. The Nurse-Engineer: A New Role to Improve Nurse Technology Interface and Patient Care Device Innovations. Glasgow MES1, Colbert A2, Viator J3, Cavanagh S4. [PubMed] Content Goes Here