Monday, April 02, 2018

Nurse Innovators and Trailblazers: An Embarrassment of Riches

I recently spoke with a nurse career coaching client who's thoughtfully searching for what she should do next with her nursing career in order to more fully reach her potential as a healthcare professional.

As I've previously discussed on both this blog and my podcast, the sky's the limit in terms of what nurses are capable of, even though nursing schools (and by extension many of your nursing colleagues) will lead you to believe that acute care is the only place where "real" nurses choose to make their professional nest.

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Seeing the Possibilities

When I speak with confused yet earnest nurses about the vision of what they want or what their personal mission may be, they often verbalize feeling stuck in the old paradigm that dictates that the only worthwhile work for a nurse to do exists within the hospital walls.

This narrow vision of nurses' potential stymies creativity and creates an environment in which nurses cannot see past the artificial box in which they've been summarily placed.

However, when the conversation is allowed to proceed unfettered, the light bulb will often go off, and the nurse in question will have an epiphany that opens their eyes to their unbridled potential for meaningful work, personal agency, and deep satisfaction.

The particular client mentioned above simply needs a push in order to see that there are nurses who have carved incredibly rich professional niches for themselves, often in fields that were ripe for the picking but just not necessarily on the well-worn path. Innovation and enterprise in nursing are nothing new, yet nursing school is certainly not generally the place where you might ascertain the breadth and depth of possibility that a nursing career engenders.

Nurse Innovators Rock

A multiplicity of nurse innovators exists here in the United States and beyond, and innovation is one of the driving forces behind radical change in most any industry.

One forward thinking nursing school definitely not stuck in the past (and that actually sees the massive potential of innovation) is Ohio State University. Their Innovation Studio provides a powerful testing ground for new ideas and products, and my friend and colleague Tim Raderstorf is the Chief Innovation Officer in residence. Tim's 2017 interview on RNFM Radio says it all -- listen to understand where OSU is headed as they clearly lead the way in the 21st century.

Sometimes nursing innovation comes in the form of a service or product that transforms the ways that nurses practice. Nurse inventor and entrepreneur Wayne Nix is on the front lines, and his Multinix Tool and RNvention website introduce us to a world where new thoughts and ideas can spring to life.

Meanwhile, nurse Sarah Mott's NurseBorn Products has also led the charge in helping nurses to bring new products to the market, with her Koala-Qlip Stethoscope Holder being the first product off of the NurseBorn shelves.

Nurses Coloring Outside the Lines

My above-mentioned career coaching client is clearly a nurse thought leader in the making. With her special talents, keen intelligence, expertise, high-level education, and infectious enthusiasm, she could carve out a multitude of paths that would provide her with inspiration and great personal and professional satisfaction. It is truly clients like her who light my fire and move me to continue to push nurses towards manifesting their dreams and visions.

Nursing thought leaders can easily position themselves as content experts (eg: writers, bloggers, podcasters, resident experts on influential websites, social media influencers, etc.) as a means of building an audience for their ideas and earning money along the way. Thought leaders can also "hang a shingle" as a nurse entrepreneur when they have unique and viable solutions to vexing problems. Here are several examples:

Renee Thompson is arguably the national expert on bullying and incivility in nursing, and she has created a platform from which she espouses her expertise and earns a living. As a writer and content creator, she uses social media, her own books and products, and her blog as platforms for her ideas. As a consultant, hospital systems and medical facilities hire Renee to transform their corporate culture, weed out bullies, and improve collaboration and teamwork through improved onboarding and mentorship practices. Renee is also a sought after international nurse speaker, and her talent on the stage has her booked months in advance.

Sharon Weinstein is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) who uses her wit, knowledge, and years of nursing experience to create books that serve as the entry point to her own brand of nursing thought leadership and empowerment. Like Renee Thompson, she is a popular nurse speaker.

Donna Cardillo, one of my true nurse mentors, is known as "The Inspiration Nurse", and she uses humor, expertise, and true charisma to command the stage, write inspiring books, create useful products, and lead very popular retreats and workshops for nurses. Donna is a humorist and speaker who weaves fascinating tales about how she has created opportunities through sheer will and dogged determination.

Michelle Podlesni is the President of the National Nurses in Business Association. Michelle has skillfully transformed the NNBA into a force to be reckoned with. Having worked in corporate America and served in the military, she has a plethora of applicable skills and experience that I continue to learn more about as our relationship as friends and colleagues matures. Feel free to join me at the NNBA 2018 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada for a truly inspirational experience.

These and many other nurses bring the force of their personality, vision, personal mission, and professional excellence to the table in everything they do. These are no shrinking violets. Rather, these are nurse innovators who have often taken great risks in order to manifest unforeseen opportunities or force open doors that were otherwise closed to them. In fact, some of them simply created doors where no door previously existed.

Of course, an incredible career can be carved out of a life in the academic world, the hospital, or the corporate environment. Nurses deserve a seat at any table at which they choose to be seated, however the powers that be will often push back against nurses seeking to color outside the lines.

Nurse, Go Forth and Create

Nurses can often feel pigeonholed and hampered by the strictures and limitations imposed by others. Seeing beyond the box or manifesting a unique vision can be frightening, especially in a profession with so many persistent stereotypes and stigmas to overcome.

The nurses named above weren't handed their success on a silver platter, and plenty of them probably heard less than encouraging messages along the way. In light of that struggle to courageously innovate and push the boundaries of nursing, we owe a debt of gratitude to the nurses who continue to pave the way for those of us riding on their enormous coattails.

If you're a nurse with a vision for a future that may be somewhat outside the mainstream, you're in good company. Whether you work within the healthcare industry or move far beyond its walls, nursing is a framework upon which you can build your own innovation and success. There are plenty of examples of powerful nurses who have done the same. Allow them to light your way with the brilliance of their visionary leadership and courage.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality and social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and intelligent cat, George.

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