8 Incredible Inventions by Nurses

04 May 2020 By Michael Bowyer

In the lead up to International Nurses Day (#IND2020) on the 12th May and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic we're looking at 8 incredible inventions by nurses! There have been many incredible examples of healthcare professionals innovating and advancing the field of medicine, especially during national emergencies; but did you know that some of the best medical equipment was invented by nurses?

Why are nurses in a great position to invent things?

In more ways than one, nurses have been a cornerstone in keeping our communities functioning. You could say they are the unsung heroes of society. Their profession places them in a position that is between life and death for some of us and although it isn’t always up to them as to whether that door opens and closes, it hasn’t stopped them from taking advantage of that position to make changes to improve the system; whether by improved devices or suggesting new ways of working. Their hands-on approach and in some way “instinct” has led to the evolution of medical care that we know of and rely on today.

1. Neonatal phototherapy

In the 1950s, English nurse, Sister Jean Ward discovered that sunlight helped her infant charges suffering from jaundice. Jaundice gives babies a yellow tinge to their skin due to high bilibrubin levels generated by creating new blood cells. Usually the liver would help break down bilibrubin but many infants’ livers do not work efficiently for a few weeks after birth. Sister Ward believed that sunlight helped her premature infants and would take them for short walks outside. When a doctor, named Dobbs, noticed that under a portion of a baby’s clothing the skin was still yellow, having not been exposed to the sunlight, Ward’s beliefs were confirmed, and now medical professionals commonly use phototherapy to treat babies with jaundice.

2. The Bili-Bonnet

The Billi-Bonnet was invented as a means of protecting premature babies’ eyes from phototherapy. For a long time, nurses and doctors would fashion eye coverings from materials they had available. But in the 1990s while working in the NICU at St. Bernadine Hospital and San Bernardino County Hospital, Californian nurse Sharon Rogone created glasses for her young patients that provided appropriate and comfortable coverage. She held them in place with a little bonnet and doctors still use her patented Bili-Bonnet today.

3. Disposable liners for baby bottles

In the 1940s Nurse Adda May Ellen, while at Columbia Hospital in Washington D.C, noticed the strain and exhaustion bottle feeding was to babies. On the traditional bottle, a vacuum would form while the baby sucked on it thereby inverting the nipple and reducing milk flow. Since realising this, she invented a liner that was disposable and allowed milk to still flow even when the sides closed. These liners were designed to have collapsible sides that closed in on the vacuum, thereby neutralising the pressure and making it possible to obtain more milk without exhausting the patient.

4. The crash cart

Originally named the Crisis Cart, this invention has proved to be a life saver. A crash cart is made up of a cart with draws that contain a defibrillator and resuscitation equipment. The idea was created by nurse Anita Dorr in 1968 while working in a busy A&E setting in 1968. She focussed on making sure the equipment was arranged in order of importance, with equipment needed to treat head wounds at the top and less important equipment in subsequent draws. Anita seized the opportunity to change lives, her legacy lives on in the lives she’s saved.

5. Colour-coded IV lines

What would you do to minimise the risk of medical errors? What things around you can you change, however little? What can be done to make things easier for your colleagues as well as your patients? Before the concept of colour coded IV lines, nurses would have felt the challenges of keeping multiple, clear IV lines separate during an infusion causing medical errors.

The solution? Simple and highly effective, colour coded IV lines invented by nurse Teri Barton-Salinas and her sister, Gail Barton-Hay in 2003 to aid nurses in high pressure situations. The idea stemmed from their specialist work caring for new borns where the need to identify the correct lines in seconds was of the essence in preventing neonatal fatalities.

6. Feeding tubes for the paralysed

After WWII, many veterans were left paralysed and had all independence in their lives removed. If WWII did not kill them, the hunger that they face would come close. Nurse Bessie Blount Griffin found herself at the forefront of rehabilitating soldiers from teaching soldiers how to read brail with their feet to teaching others to draw using their mouths. Her accomplishments were outstanding already.

What she did next has changed the way we care for paralysed and compromised patients. With a huge level of determination, she invested years of her time and money into inventing a feeding tube that could provide food to patients when they bit down with their teeth. This gave her patients a small amount of independence and restored an element of dignity to their lives. Her invention was so appreciated that her veteran patients nicknamed her ‘wonder woman’.

7. Ostomy bags

Danish nurse, Elise Sorensen was frustrated with the discomfort her sister, Thora, suffered. Having survived colon cancer, her sister had been left using an appliance to remove her waste. Unfortunately, the appliance was prone to leaking causing smells and embarrassment. Motivated by her sisters’ plight, in 1954 she created a plastic pouch that could be attached to her sister’s body and efficiently and subtly remove waste. This innovation has helped improve the lives of thousands of patients in similar positions across the world.

8. Sanitary pads

During WWI, nurses and doctors used a thickened form of cotton called ‘cellucotton’ to help treat the wounded as it was much more absorbent than regular cotton bandages. Nurses surreptitiously used it as improvised sanitary wear with satisfactory results. After the war ended, the idea was marketed successfully as a disposable solution and is still popular today.

Thank you on International Nurses Day

Nurses have made a huge impact throughout history and are some of the most important members of society. As International Nurses Day draws closer, we would like to say a massive thank you to all the nurses and midwives for all the care and work you do, especially during this difficult time. We want to support you during this difficult time, whether it be help with your mental health / stress levels, PPE questions or just an ear to listen after a difficult day, you need only to ask.

If you’re looking for your next role we want to help! Whether working in primary care or acute nursing, our skilled recruitment consultants are currently working on several opportunities and may have the right role for you.

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