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The Nation’s First Hospital Makerspace For Nurses Is Reinventing Medicine

From glow in the dark pill bottles to waterproof shower shields, front line nurses are full of creative ideas to improve patient care. Now they can make them real.

The Nation’s First Hospital Makerspace For Nurses Is Reinventing Medicine

The nursing profession exists at the spear-point of medicine. Nurses see the little problems of everyday care: the discomforts or inconveniences of patients and the inefficiencies of hospitals.

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So, why not enable nurses to make their own fixes?

That’s what the MakerNurse initiative at MIT is doing (as we wrote before). For the last two years, it’s been documenting and archiving ideas from nurses who make things that help them improve patient care (think: glow-in-the-dark pill bottles, catheter protectors). And, now it’s enabling actual prototyping and development from a unique maker-space at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital, in Galveston.

“We promised the nursing world that we’re not here to take your ideas. We want to develop tools,” says MakerNurse cofounder Jose Gomez-Marquez. “Our dream was to make a medical maker space inside a hospital that was really suited for health care professionals.”

The site contains digital fabrication equipment like laser cutters and 3-D printers, so nurses can design on-screen. It has a electronics section for adding intelligence to things, and a range of assembly and curator tools. There’s also a human “facilitator” on-hand to help the nurses, and the space invites in makers-in-residence from the local area.

Two weeks in, 107 nurses have registered, and several creations have already been born. These include a shower system for the burn unit, laser-cut bandages for babies under 28 days old (because “they don’t make them that small”), and a water-proof shield so patients can shower without taking out their IV lines. The MakerHealth facility is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and UTMB Health.

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Gomez-Marquez says nurses have long been creative and sought their own solutions. The difference now is they have a range of prototyping technology to draw to make their ideas whole. Digital fabrication also helps improve repeatability, as each step can be documented easily. The space has an diagramming area for doing “prototype selfie.”

Before anything reaches a clinical area, it goes through a rigorous infection control protocol, Gomez-Marquez says.

Setting up maker-spaces sounds like something hospitals could do to empower nurses and perhaps save money. MakerNurse inventions are the antithesis of $10,000 weight scales and other platinum-plated hospital equipment.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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