May 10, 2021

UCalgary nurse researchers are powerhouses in driving innovation

Innovate Calgary celebrates nurse entrepreneurs for National Nursing Week
From left: Karen Benzies, Amie Liddle, Dawn Kingston, and Zahra Shajani.
From left: Karen Benzies, Amie Liddle, Dawn Kingston, and Zahra Shajani.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is how vital health-care providers are to the health and safety of our community. Nurses have been at the forefront all over the country, making diverse contributions to the well-being of Canadians. As we mark the beginning of 2021 National Nursing Week, Innovate Calgary would like to celebrate the ingenuity, care, resilience and bravery of our nurses and their innovations. This year's theme is #WeAnswerTheCall which is undoubtedly true for UCalgary Nursing researchers.

"Nurses have always been an integral part of a strong social fabric and use skills in their daily practice that align well with entrepreneurial thinking, such as empathy, data collection and synthesis, decisiveness, communication, and grit. Innovate Calgary is happy to celebrate these researchers who are powerhouses in driving innovation both on and off campus," says Jordana Armstrong, associate director for social and clinical innovation, Innovate Calgary.

Several UCalgary nurse-researchers have launched innovations, providing unique solutions to diverse problems. These include solutions in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) care, managing patient complaints, helping new mothers, and better equipping future nurses to tackle their challenging future careers.

Diverse problems, unique solutions

Merge is an innovation spearheaded by Dr. Karen Benzies, PhD, professor of nursing at the University of Calgary. It challenges conventional hospital care through a new training and followup model for health-care professions that empower parents.

"Providers become more skilled in communications, and provide more consistent, evidence-informed education and support for parents of critically ill newborns," says Benzies of Merge.

Benzies found that adopting this new model of care in hospitals resulted in premature babies going home earlier, providing cost savings to parents, reducing the possibility of overcrowding, and saved health systems millions of dollars. In 2019, Alberta Health Services implemented Merge (branded as Alberta Family Integrated Care for the clinical trial) in 14 Alberta NICUs in the province.

Although an expert nurse and researcher, Benzies felt unequipped for the commercialization process.

"My lack of business knowledge was the greatest barrier to commercialization. With my research training and experience, I accumulated vast amounts of substantive and methodological knowledge but lacked business expertise," says Benzies.

"Innovate Calgary has walked alongside us for more than 10 years with one-on-one coaching, training, guidance and access to other entrepreneurial thinkers for advice," says Benzies.

Innovate Calgary continues to support Benzies' vision to bring Merge to every NICU, nationally and internationally.

Other nurse-led innovations in recent years that Innovate Calgary is proud to support:

Querulous Complainant Assessment Instrument and Process 

Inspired by 13 years in patient relations, Dr. Amie Liddle, PhD, has developed the Querulous Complainant Assessment Instrument and Process (QCAIP) for managing persistent patient complaints that cannot be addressed using standard processes. This assessment tool will help health-care providers identify these types of complaints earlier and address them quickly and effectively, saving time and resources. It will also help health-care providers understand rather than explain the complainant's distress while managing the impact these complaints can have on care providers' mental health. Learn more.

The HOPE Project

Passionate about mental health and health care, Dr. Dawn Kingston, PhD, leads the Hope Project, which has been awarded the provincial Mental Health and Addiction COVID-19 Community Funding grant. This $500,000 grant will support the platform's expansion to offer women e-screening, e-referral, and e-therapy. The HOPE digital platform provides accessible, affordable, quality mental health care to women that can be embedded in primary or acute care.

Ignitingale (team-based learning platform)

Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger, PhD., associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing, is enthusiastic about building the capacity and knowledge of future health-care providers and beyond. In collaboration with the Schulich School of Engineering, Duffer-Leger is working on Ignitingale. This technology enhances student engagement and knowledge acquisition by leveraging an experiential-learning teaching approach to facilitate critical thinking and teamwork by providing immediate feedback to students. This project will also encourage collaboration between nursing and software engineering students on digital health innovations.

Duffett-Leger has also been named a Peak Scholar for COVID-19 innovation excellence for the VID-KIDs program to help new moms.

The Digital Clinical Tracking Tool

As the undergraduate associate dean of undergraduate practice education, Dr. Zahra Shajani, EdD, has facilitated the hands-on learning of many future nurses. In her role, Shajani noticed an opportunity to improve students' clinical nursing education by providing timely and meaningful feedback to students while allowing instructors to monitor students' clinical competence during their practicums.

Shajani and her team, Dr. Catherine Laing, PhD, Amanda O'Rae and Justin Burkett (all from UCalgary Nursing), are still developing the tool. It will allow students to reflect on their clinical practice in real time while providing continued patient safety and quality nursing care. 

Thank you to our nurses and UCalgary nurse entrepreneurs for their unlimited contributions to Albertans' and Canadians' health and health-care systems.

Innovate Calgary is committed to helping researchers translate their evidence-informed innovations into scalable and sustainable commercial solutions that positively impact our communities. We support researchers from various backgrounds by providing services in technology assessment, intellectual property management, knowledge translation, commercialization, and company formation.

Karen Benzies is a professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, adjunct research professor of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences in the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of the Owerko Centre in the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI).

Linda Duffett-Leger is an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing and a member of ACHRI.

Dawn Kingston is an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing, Lois Hole Hospital Cross-Provincial Chair in Perinatal Mental Health, and a member of ACHRI.

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