- The University of Connecticut made waves in healthcare with its one-of-a-kind innovation center designed for nursing and engineering students.
- Through generous support and funding, the center aims to make a positive impact on patient care.
- Hear from the center’s co-director about benefits to students and overall plans for the future.
Nurses are well known for their dedication to their patients. Engineers also make contributions to healthcare by developing new medical technologies.
People may not automatically see a lot of overlap between these two fields. But leaders at one large university saw an opportunity for collaboration, and are bridging the gap between nursing students and engineering students in hopes of making a positive impact on health and healthcare delivery.
According to officials, the University of Connecticut’s (UConn’s) first-of-its-kind Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center creates a space where nursing and engineering students can come together and address unmet needs in healthcare, brainstorm ideas, and create new evidence-based healthcare technologies.
The center, co-directed by UConn School of Nursing visiting associate professor Tiffany Kelley, Ph.D., MBA, RN-BC, and UConn School of Engineering assistant professor-in-residence Leila Daneshmandi, Ph.D., launched its first fellowship program in August.
“One of the University of Connecticut’s goals is to provide life-transformative education to students,” Kelley told NurseJournal. “That framework is always front of mind in our offerings through the Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center…From an interdisciplinary perspective, students from both schools who are involved with the center will graduate with a deeper understanding and appreciation [of] each other’s discipline, as well as healthcare at large, prior to starting their professional roles.”
Nursing and Engineering: Natural Partners?
The Nursing and Engineering Center was designed to address unmet clinical needs to advance healthcare innovation through interdisciplinary partnerships.
“In nursing, we aim to break down silos,” says Kelley. “However, if we train students to interact and collaborate with other disciplines from the start, perhaps those silos will not develop.”
The center’s development was inspired by university alums: James Belmont (engineering) and his sister Gail Belmont-Harwood (nursing). Belmont’s support for the center’s Program Support Fund is rooted in the siblings’ understanding that “best practices in innovation development indicate the need for end users to be involved in the design of new products,” according to the university.
The center’s goal is to leverage the unique skills of both nurses and engineers to guide technological developments and innovation in nursing and healthcare.
“Engineers are trained to solve problems and create solutions. They have the technical knowledge, skills, and abilities to actualize new technologies,” Daneshmandi said in the university’s statement. “By partnering with nurses and health care professionals, who have deep contextual knowledge of on-site problems and needs, we can ensure that our innovations are user-centric and designed for unmet health care needs.”
According to center leaders, nurses are innovators and change agents with a plethora of healthcare knowledge and experience in both clinical and community contexts. Nurses can identify clinical problems and needs, devise solutions, and evaluate new technologies. Engineers are also innovators who can brainstorm new ideas, and their technical training allows them to make those ideas a reality.
Biomedical engineering students at the university have already developed several technology-based projects in 2023 within their department that support the research, diagnosis, and monitoring of medical conditions, including traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and osteoarthritis.
Through the center, engineering students will work closely with nursing students on future projects that promote safe, efficient, and timely patient-centered care.
What Are the Specific Plans for the Center?
One of the center’s initiatives is to offer nursing and engineering undergraduate students a Nursing and Engineering Innovation Fellowship, which are designed to foster creativity, collaboration, and innovation over an academic year.
“We launched the Fellowship in August with our first cohort of students,” says Kelley. “We are very fortunate to have been awarded a three-year VentureWell Courses and Program Grant award to support this program.”
Through the fellowship, students will identify a healthcare problem and develop a technological solution (prototype development).
“The selected fellows participate in a year-long fellowship that includes two academic courses for credit, along with team-based experiential learning and monthly mentoring sessions,” Kelley says. “By the end of the Fellowship, students will have developed initial prototypes of their team’s identified innovative solution and pitch their solutions at the end of the academic year.”
The center will offer both educational and professional benefits to students post-graduation.
“From an innovation perspective, students will be prepared to identify systemic problems in need of solutions and know how to solve them,” says Kelley. “This mindset and skillset will be applicable beyond their academic time at the university.”
Although the center is still in the planning phase, Kelley says both departments have been collaborating on projects before formally establishing the center. One example is the design of a now-patented glove waste reduction system and a breastfeeding diagnostic device that measures infants’ sucking during breastfeeding.
Both disciplines have previously collaborated on research projects within the school of nursing’s Center for Advancement in Managing Pain.
The Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center will move forward in two phases. Phase one will create joint educational programs for students and seed grants for collaborative research among faculty. Phase two will require major university, state, federal, and donor investment to create a shared state-of-the-art research and teaching facility.
“The Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center has been met with excitement across both the School of Nursing and Engineering as well as the University at large and external community,” says Kelly. “As this is one of the first of its kind in the nation, the establishment of such a center is an innovation of its own.”
Meet Our Contributor
Tiffany Kelley PhD, MBA, RN-BC
Dr. Tiffany Kelley PhD, MBA, RN-BC is a Visiting Professor, Director of the Healthcare Innovation Online Graduate Certificate Program, and Co-Director for the Nursing and Engineering Innovation Center at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing. She is a leading expert on the topics of healthcare innovation in the contemporary times of delivering safe, efficient, timely, patient-centered, effective, and equitable care to patients and their families. In 2017, Dr. Kelley was recognized as one of the top 12 women in healthcare and awarded Excellence in Innovation for Nightingale Apps’ Know My Patient in 2018. In 2022, she received the Regina Cusson Healthcare Innovation Award for her contributions in nursing and healthcare innovation. She is the founder/CEO of Nightingale & iCare and currently serves as an advisor for the UConn Venture and Incubator Board and an Editorial Board Member for American Nurse Today. Dr. Kelly received a Ph.D. from Duke University, an MBA and MS from Northeastern University, and a BSN from Georgetown University.