Building Health Care Innovators

By Johanna Cano, posted Apr 16, 2021
Those with an interest in innovation and solving health care problems can exercise their entrepreneurial spirit and earn a certificate while doing so as part of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s new Health Care Innovation Certificate Program.
The semester-long program was developed by the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), UNCW College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s (NHRMC) Innovation Center.
The program is aimed at being a “team-based, interactive and handson learning experience,” said Diane Durance, director of the CIE.
The class will be structured around teams that will find pain points in the health care industry and work to develop solutions through a design thinking process.
Teams will then build a business for their solutions and work on creating elevator pitches.
While the program is new, the concept has been in the development process over the past couple of years, Durance said.
“It was a long trail that led to this idea. The CIE and NHRMC Innovation Center team worked on a couple of health care innovation boot camps that go back to 2019,” she said. “After doing a couple of those, NHRMC decided to change the name of it to Speed of Health.”
Boot camp participants expressed that they wanted in an innovation program that provided credentials.
“[NHRMC] was looking at the outcomes from the first couple of boot camps, and they realized from polling the participants that they were interested in having more official credentials from participating in it. And we really hadn’t thought about that,” she said.
Additionally, Speed of Health organizers were looking at working with CHHS because it had launched a “Kickbox” competition series, an initiative to provide funding for innovation projects by faculty and staff, which is how CHHS became involved in providing certification.
Starting a credential program seemed like a good idea because there has been a trend across universities using the concept of micro-credentials, Durance said.
“Students love to put them [certificates] on their resume and help them with standing out when they’re interviewing for jobs,” she added.
While the program officially kicks off in the fall semester, it is currently running a pilot with a local entrepreneur.
“He has a health care innovation that he’s working on. And we have about eight mentors from the CIE mentor pool that are involved,” Durance said. “We’re taking this entrepreneur and these mentors through a trial run of this entire semester-long program, so that the mentors then will be prepared to be mentors in the future and the entrepreneur gets the benefit of all this support and help as he goes through this program with us.”
This pilot has shown that the process of design thinking helps entrepreneurs through the ideation development.
“Instead of, from their perspective, seeing that nurses struggle with this or that, they would be looking at it more from the actual experience that nurses and patients are having, so a lot of it is observing,” Durance said.
On the business side, students will go through a Business Model Canvas where they define their customer, value proposition, revenue and more. Additionally, participants will get to meet with different health care entrepreneurs in the community.
The program will be open to CHHS students and faculty as well as health care professionals.
The decision to build a certificate in innovation that specifically focuses on health care came from identifying assets in the region, Durance said.
“From the CIE’s perspective, we really focus our strategy for developing entrepreneurship in the areas where we have a lot of strength on campus,” she said. “We also have interest in the community, and with New Hanover Regional Medical Center establishing the innovation team, there was a real focus for them on developing an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset across the medical center.”
Additionally, there is a growing trend in the health care industry focusing more on innovation.
“There are several programs now at universities that are specific to innovation in health care,” Durance said. “There are many reasons for that. One is that health care is a massive system with lots of components and moving parts, and it tends to iterate, modernize and innovate very slowly just because of its size and composition.”
At the same time, innovation is needed because it can help maintain quality of care while increasing efficiency and keeping costs down, Durance added.
From the team at UNCW to NHRMC, there were many people involved in getting the program up and running.
“Everyone is really excited about the concept of developing these programs for innovation,” Durance said. “In fact, the computer science department wants to know when we’re going to do an innovation in computer science program; marine science wants to know when we are going to do a certificate in innovation in marine science. These micro-credentials and these specific skills are in such high demand.”
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