5 Medical Innovators Who Changed Nursing

In the hustle of the daily demands and duties of nurses, seemingly small medical breakthroughs can make a huge difference. Medical innovations have changed the field of nursing dramatically throughout the years, and many came from everyday necessity.

Medical innovators, including nurses on the front lines of patient care, saw ways to make the role easier, safer, and more productive.

Innovations in healthcare aren’t always incredibly scientific or complicated. Chances are some of the most impactful medical inventions aren’t ones patients or healthcare professionals would devise. Check out these five medical innovators who created revolutionary and pervasive healthcare innovations that changed nursing.

1. Alexander Wood & Charles Pravas: Hypodermic Needles

At almost exactly the same time in 1853, Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Wood and French surgeon Dr. Charles Pravas invented the first hypodermic needles. Incredibly, the Pravas Syringe started to be used around the same time that Dr. Wood published a paper about how to administer pain medication through injection.

Dr. Pravas died soon after introducing his invention, so Wood popularized the idea of using injection as a medical technique. He created the glass syringe that allowed for dosing to be determined by observing the medication inside. The hypodermic needle was first used to administer pain medication, but soon, the invention was used for far more.

Today, nurses can administer drugs quickly and safely thanks to the work of these two men. The hypodermic needle is pivotal in everything from preventative to emergency medicine. The World Health Organization estimates at least 16 billion injections are administered worldwide every year.

The World Health Organization estimates at least 16 billion injections are administered worldwide every year.

2. William Stewart Halstead: Medical Gloves

The first chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Willian Stewart Halstead, invented medical gloves in 1883 to prevent his staff from having reactions to surgical chemicals. He was most concerned about his scrub nurse, Caroline Hampton, who developed severe dermatitis from the chemicals used during surgery.

By the early 1900s, all surgeons wore gloves. Throughout the years, the rubber gloves that were first used by Dr. Halstead and his staff have evolved, but they’re still protecting the hands of nurses everywhere. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls medical gloves one part of an infection-control strategy, protecting the wearer and the patient.

Dr. Halstead didn’t stop at one healthcare innovation. He created principles still used in surgery today that lead to a more sterile environment for patients and medical staff. As a surgeon, he developed the idea of the radical mastectomy and performed one of the first gallbladder surgeries in the United States, as well as one of the first blood transfusions.

3. Willis Dew Gatch: Hospital Beds

Dr. Willis Dew Gatch developed the modern-day hospital bed, sometimes called the Gatch Bed. The Gatch Bed is a hospital cot with three movable sections and mechanical springs that allow for the repositioning of each segment of the body easily and independently.

Today, the bed is used throughout healthcare facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient clinics. Many patients with long-term health problems also use the beds in their homes. Before this healthcare innovation, patients could not sit upright in bed while ill or recovering from a medical procedure. This caused them to run the risk of infection due to lack of movement. In 1909, Dr. Gatch published a paper outlining the benefits of his for patients recovering from surgery titled “The Sitting Posture: Its Postoperative and Other Uses.”

The beds we use today closely resemble his prototype, and anyone who has suffered from an illness or recovered from surgery has reaped the benefits of a movable bed. Nurses use forms of Dr. Gatch’s medical innovation to better care for their patients, as well as decrease the risk of injury from moving patients themselves.

4. Earle Dickson: Band-Aids

Earl Dickson was a Johnson & Johnson employee in the 1920s. Dickson witnessed his wife burn or cut herself repeatedly while cooking, and he sought to design something that helped her dress her wounds without assistance. He developed a prototype that he passed on to his company. His initial idea of an adhesive bandage became the Band-Aid.

Over the years, “Band-Aid” has become synonymous with “bandage,” even though many other brands of the same product have been created. In 2019, were sold, not counting specialty Band-Aids like Tough Strips or Skin Flex, which also sold millions of units.

While Dickson wasn’t a member of the medical community, his invention still saves time for nurses across the world. From blood draws at the hospital to covering small cuts in a school clinic, Band-Aids are now used by nurses in all sorts of specialties to quickly treat patients.

5. Anita Dorr: Crash Cart

Anita Dorr, RN worked in an emergency department in the 1960s as a nurse. She noticed it took far too long to gather the medical equipment required during an emergency. With the help of her fellow nurses, she made a list of all items needed and built a prototype of the crash cart in her home. Today, crash carts are used around the world.

Dorr did not receive a patent for her invention, and other medical professionals who created similar concepts around the same time have been credited with its invention as well. Dr. Joel J. Nobel was the first to patent the crash cart and is also credited as an inventor of the crash cart.

Dorr’s contributions to medicine expanded after her groundbreaking and lifesaving invention, though. She went on to co-found the Emergency Nurses Association in the early 1970s. The organization supports advancement of the emergency nursing specialty by contributing to the education of future nurses through scholarships. It also advocates for nurses working in emergency departments.

Join These Medical Innovators

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