Originally published on jnj.com.
Treating patients day and night is just one part of the job description for this enterprising nurse, who has made it her mission to help fellow nurses persevere during the pandemic and beyond. And it’s not her first great healthcare innovation.
Long before COVID-19 upended life as we know it this year, the World Health Organization designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, in honor of the 200th anniversary of trailblazing nurse Florence Nightingale’s birth.
Nearly ten months into the pandemic, that decision would turn out to be astoundingly prescient as nurses around the world have mobilized to the front lines to help people impacted by the novel coronavirus.
In addition to the invaluable skills they offer while caring for patients, nurses also have another skill that often goes unnoticed: the ability to innovate. Every day, nurses help strengthen health systems by solving problems, improving on processes and devising new ways of delivering care.
It’s why Johnson & Johnson launched the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellowship in 2019 and selected 12 nurses to join a two-year program that provides them with leadership insights and personal development education, mentorship and other support to help them advance their groundbreaking ideas for improving patient care.
Nurses like Charlene Grace Platon—a board-certified family nurse practitioner and Director of Ambulatory Nursing at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California—who has been innovating since her first days on the job as a nursing assistant.
“Even when I was at the way bottom of the healthcare ladder, I was innovating—but I never considered myself an innovator until recently,” Platon says. “I’m passionate about encouraging all nurses to see themselves in this way, and being a Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellow is helping me to do that.”
Now that Platon is a year into the fellowship, we decided to catch up with her to see how she’s doing—and learn about an innovative new idea she’s pursuing that sprung from her experiences during the height of the pandemic.
Charlene Grace Platon: “Within the first few weeks on the job as a nursing assistant in 2010, I noticed there were some inefficiencies and inconsistencies with how our patients’ vital signs were being documented. I was just starting out in my career, but I knew enough to understand that this crucial info needed to be reported accurately and consistently—and if it wasn’t, it was going to impact what the nurses could do for their patients.
Before one of my shifts, I created a standard documentation template for my patients’ vital signs. It was just a simple printout of a checklist that I used to record all of my notes, like whether I had changed the linens and showered each patient, along with their important health stats. The other assistants started asking me about the checklist on my clipboard, and then started requesting copies for themselves. When my manager saw that all of us were using this template, he made it standard—and years later I found out they were still using my checklist.
When I became a registered nurse and started working at a community hospital in east Los Angeles, I noticed a problem with emergency room (ER) boarding, which is the practice of keeping patients in the ER while waiting for an inpatient bed. There were major delays in the time it took patients to move from the ER to inpatient units.
One night, I started my shift and found a patient on a gurney in a hallway, sitting by himself. He’d just been dropped off, considered “transferred” to our department, even though nobody was there to receive him. I knew we could do better.
I drafted a proposal for how to build our own admission nursing team, and luckily, my chief nursing officer loved the idea and we were able to get the program up and running in three months.
I called us the S.W.A.T. nurses: Specialized Workforce for Admissions and Throughput. We worked to make sure no patients had to wait longer than necessary for a hospital bed. After a few months, we brought down the emergency department boarding time by two hours, on average, per patient.
The Fellowship—and Year—That Changed Everything
Last year, I saw nurse Rebecca Love’s TEDx talk about nursing innovation and thought, I can’t believe I’ve been innovating all of these years and never called it that. Like Love’s experience, nobody else had ever called me an innovator.
So when she posted about the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellowship opportunity on her LinkedIn page, it really spoke to me. The description captured everything I love most about nursing. I knew I had to apply.
I knew I wanted to create something for nurses working on the front lines of the fight against the virus. The result is WellNurse, an app for nurses by nurses filled with meditation tools, self-care practices and a feature that lets users connect with other nurses.
When I was accepted into the program I had a goal of creating a platform that would help nurses innovate more easily within their healthcare systems. I thought about my career and all of the supportive managers I’ve had who’ve encouraged me to innovate. I also thought about all of my colleagues with great ideas who didn’t pitch them because they felt like the system was working against them. I set out with a goal of making the system work for more nurses, so that everyone has the opportunity to receive the kind of support I’ve been shown throughout my career.
Soon after becoming a Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellow, I moved into a new role at Stanford Health Care and became a founding member of the Innovation Tech Governance steering committee here. Together with the other nurses, doctors and interdisciplinary healthcare professionals on the committee, we are building exactly what I envisioned: a standardized platform hospitals can put in place to encourage nurses to share their big ideas, and even get resources to make them a reality.
This project is still in its early stages, but ideally, if a nurse or other employee has an idea for an innovation, they would submit it via an intake form. Then, the steering committee would review and evaluate the proposal. If it meets criteria, the committee would provide guidance to ensure that the invention goes through the appropriate next steps, like patenting and licensing, and also provide support, such as mentorship, to help bring the idea to life.
My status as a Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellow has put me in a prime position to do this work—and even more as the novel coronavirus quickly became a global pandemic.
In May I took part in a NurseHack4Health COVID-19 Virtual Hackathon, in which about 30 teams of nurse innovators came up with ideas to help resolve “pain points” for healthcare professionals and patients, specifically in the time of COVID-19.
I knew I wanted to create something for nurses working on the front lines of the fight against the virus. All nurses face burnout at some point in their careers, and so many nurses are having a particularly hard time right now. Before the hackathon I connected with a prominent nurse entrepreneur and found other nurses who wanted to join this mission of promoting the well-being of nurses. In the end, we were a team of 10: eight nurses and two technical experts.
The result of our brainstorming is WellNurse©, an app for nurses by nurses filled with meditation tools, self-care practices and a feature that lets users connect with other nurses. We kept hearing from our nurse colleagues about how socially isolated they feel right now, and how they crave a safe space to reach out to other nurses who know exactly what they’re going through. So that’s why we built a community platform into the WellNurse app.
After we were chosen as one of the winners of the hackathon, we joined a 10-week incubator program and focused on building our minimum viable product, which is an early version of a new product. We’re currently getting feedback from beta testers and figuring out how to make tweaks and keep growing what the app offers. Looking back on what we’ve accomplished in just a few months makes me smile.
Innovating Is Hard Work, But It’s So Energizing
These days, I spend my nights and weekends working on WellNurse, in addition to my normal, 40-hour-a-week job. I meet with my hackathon team members virtually several times a week so we stay on track to make WellNurse an actual startup.
It’s a lot to balance. But thinking about the end goal of creating a product that really supports nurses keeps me going.
I’m lucky that my full-time job allows me to innovate. But I think it’s important to note that so many nurses are innovating even if it’s not a part of their job descriptions—especially now, when the country is still struggling to treat patients with COVID-19.
Nurses are at the bedside treating patients, but they’re also doing so much background work. They’re figuring out how to keep employees safe, how to screen visitors, coming up with new policies to keep everything running smoothly and so much more. These innovations are crucial, and nurses should be proud of this game-changing work they’re doing.
If I can empower more nurses to step into their entrepreneurial potential and share their great ideas, I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded.”