The Stoltenberg Blog

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Five Medical Innovations Created by Nurses

Happy National Nurses Week! In celebration of nurses everywhere, check out the following post:

Directly caring for patients isn't the only way nurses help others. Several nurse-inventors have touched millions of lives with their groundbreaking ideas. Below, we've rounded up five medical innovations created by nurses throughout history.

Crash Cart

The crash cart is a familiar sight in intensive care units and emergency rooms around the world. These wheeled carts hold defibrillators, heart monitors, medications, intubation supplies, IV lines and other nursing supplies that can save the life of a patient. Crash carts are standard today, but they weren't invented until 1968 when Anita Dorr built a wood prototype in her basement. She consulted with her staff to determine the supplies they might need in a crisis and laid them out logically on the cart. While today's crash carts are a bit different (made from steel rather than wood for sanitary purposes), they're still standard in hospitals all around the globe. Dorr's contributions to the field didn't stop there. She helped found the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).

Feeding Tubes for Paralyzed Vets

Another invention was inspired by WWII. Many veterans were paralyzed or became amputees during the war and had no way to feed themselves. That is, until Bessie Blount Griffin invented a tube that patients could operate with their teeth. Patients bit down on the tube, which would then deliver a mouthful of liquified food. Griffin demonstrated her product on the television show The Big Idea, becoming the first woman and first African-American to appear on the show. Griffin continued to innovate, refining her feeding tube concept and developing, among other things, a disposable cardboard emesis basin.

Color-Coded IV Lines

Medication errors both inside and outside hospitals are a major contributing factor to patient illnesses and deaths. Nurses may only have seconds to choose the right IV line from a tangle of clear plastic tubes to administer a medication properly in a crisis. Terri Barton-Salinas used to attach colored masking tape to differentiate IV lines, but the tape kept getting snagged on bed sheets. She decided there had to be a better way. She shared her idea of color-coded IV lines with her sister (and fellow nurse) Gail Barton-Hay over dinner one night in 2002. They reached out to a patent attorney about the concept and received a patent for the aptly-named ColorSafe IV lines the following year. They eventually partnered with a manufacturer to get the actual products made and are now working to get their color-coded IV lines into as many hospitals as possible.

Ostomy Bag

An ostomy is a surgical procedure that allows bodily waste to exit the body through a hole on the abdomen. There are several different types of ostomies, including a colostomy (not to be confused with a colonoscopy), a urostomy and an ileostomy. The first ostomy containers were prone to leaking and were not disposable. When Danish nurse Elise Sorensen took care of her sister after her colostomy in 1954, she realized the drawbacks of the current ostomy bags and set out to make her own. She created an ostomy bag that combined a disposable plastic pouch with secure skin adhesion that guarded against leaks. This is the same basic design that is still used for ostomy bags today.

Baby Bottles with Disposable Liners

Back in the 1940s, because plastic and glass bottles didn't change shape as babies suckled them, a partial vacuum occurred, leading to babies ingesting more air. Adda May Allen invented a disposable, flexible plastic liner that would close in as the baby drank the milk, reducing the excess air. Playtex now mass-manufactures such bottles.

These five ideas reiterate nurses' steadfast dedication to improving patient care. As we celebrate this week, give thanks to those tireless individuals proudly wearing their scrubs. Happy National Nurses Week! Who knows what innovations nurses will create in the next few years.

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Deborah Swanson, Content Coordinator,