MacGyver Comes to Healthcare

Roxanne Nelson, BSN, RN


April 12, 2016

MacGyver Nurses

The Little Devices Lab at MIT had developed what they called "MEDIKits" (Medical Education Design and Invention Kits), which were essentially toolboxes containing an assortment of medical device parts and components designed to encourage healthcare professionals working in developing nations to design their own appropriate solutions. In Nicaragua, where Young and her colleagues spent 2 years crisscrossing the country, they anticipated that physicians would be eager to learn more about inventing and tinkering.

"We had expected to find dozens of MacGyver doctors, who would be the prime candidates for this, and what we found instead were MacGyver nurses," explained Young. "They were already the quiet problem-solvers in the hospital and they were eager to learn how to do this better and faster because they were innovating and finding workarounds every single day."

When they finally returned to MIT, the team gave a number of presentations about the MacGyver nurses, and at the end of 2012, they were approached by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"They wanted to know how we could support nurse inventors in the United States, and so we first had to find out if they existed, or whether this was just a phenomenon in poor countries without resources," Young said.

The initial goal of MakerNurse was to study the behavior of inventive fabrication among nurses, such as the small everyday workarounds, hardware creations, and inventions made or imagined by nurses that had potential to improve patient care. The first step was to survey nurses across the United States and then visit hospitals to study what nurses were actually creating and what kind of support was needed to enable them to do even more.

It began to grow into more than research, and discussions began with facilities about creating a "maker space," where healthcare professionals could create and actually build their prototypes.

All of the innovation seen abroad translated to the United States, Young pointed out. "The innovation that we saw in Nicaragua wasn't because they were working in really poor hospitals; instead, it was because there is a common thread throughout nursing."

That thread is that they all want the best for their patients. "Nurses and other providers aren't going to wait for the perfect solution because they need a solution right now," she said. "So they have become self-taught makers of these solutions. And from our end, we want to know how we can amplify that so that they can make the tools better and faster."


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