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UMass Inventor Insists On Due Credit For Nurses Who Innovate

Nurse Rachel Walker, demonstrating one of her inventions. Photo by Heather Duggan from UMass

Nurse Rachel Walker, demonstrating one of her inventions. Photo by Heather Duggan from UMass

A UMass Amherst nursing professor has been named to a national panel of inventors — the first nurse to be honored alongside engineers and computer scientists from companies like Microsoft and IBM.

Rachel Walker said it’s about time her profession got credit for its innovations.

Walker first started thinking about invention as a tool for better living before she even went to nursing school. She was in the Peace Corps in Mali, where she saw aid workers attempt to replace village wells with solar-powered ones. But the new wells kept breaking down, and no one knew how to repair them.

“And now people were walking miles, when before they had just been walking across the village to get their water,” she said. “To me, that was an example of not a bad innovation, but not considering context, and the capability of the people who were going to be ultimately using that product.”

When Walker went into nursing, she began to think about ways to improve health care by understanding what patients truly need and want — something nurses are well-positioned to do.

She pointed out one nurse named Bessie Blunt Griffin, “an African-American nurse, who during World War II, saw that there were veterans who were paralyzed, couldn’t eat — and she invented feeding tubes.”

More recently, intensive care nurses were trying to stop babies from pulling out their intravenous tubes.

Visit NEPR for the full story.