Nursing and engineering students are collaborating to design devices to solve problems in the healthcare workplace and to gain experience working in cross-disciplinary teams in their future careers.
Rachael Hulbert, a junior nursing student, is one of six nursing students paired with one engineering student in a collaborative group. Hulbert’s group worked with Shiphrah Matapathi, a sophomore engineering student, to design a cup handle to help patients with dexterity problems. Hulbert said the handle is designed to be slipped onto the 8 oz cups typically used in hospitals and provides an easier way to grip the cup.
Matapathi said the device promotes autonomy, making life easier for the patient by giving them the ability to do something they would normally need a nurse’s help with. Matapathi, who switched to engineering from pre-med, said the project has been fulfilling for her. “Being able to collaborate and make people’s lives easier, and also see work come to life…doing that sort of ministry is a blessing,” Matapathi said.
Hulbert said the project, which started in January and involved meeting about every two weeks, has presented a new aspect of nursing in the classroom setting. “Nursing is not necessarily individual . . . it’s very much collaboration and teamwork with multiple different departments,” Hulbert said.
Although the nursing students came up with the ideas for devices, Hulbert said the work of the engineers has made the project doable. “We couldn’t do everything we do without the equipment, and that obviously comes from engineering,” Hulbert said.
Will McKee, another sophomore engineering major, said the project has been his favorite part of the computer-aided design class so far. McKee’s group designed a hook to pull used gloves off and into a trash can, leaving hands clean. According to McKee, the design was easy to make because the class had taught him how to create designs, but the idea could not have come from him.
“The whole point of a group project is to get a room full of people with different ideas so we can get the best idea to come out of it,” McKee said. Within the engineering major, McKee said, the perspective would be limited to the experience of the engineers. According to him, the group project taught him the communication skills to take his knowledge and use it to build another’s ideas. “It was good to see how it works between fields,” McKee said.
Debbie Jones, faculty member in the Division of Nursing in the School of Health Professions, and Dr. Bill Lovegrove, head of the engineering department, set up the collaborative connection between two of their classes: the Beginning Medical-Surgical Nursing class and Computer-Aided Design and Engineering.
The idea for the collab came from Jones, who put together an early version, which had her class design products and 3D print them themselves. Jones said two years later she contacted Lovegrove about making the project collaborative with his engineering students. Lovegrove’s class of seven engineering students paired perfectly with Jones’ seven groups of about six nursing students each. “We felt it would be better to collaborate with other students on campus that had the background in the design,” Jones said. “That’s when I talked to Dr. Lovegrove, and we started the collaborative approach.”
According to Jones, the original idea for the project was to fill needs for patients or nurses. The students in her class have been through clinicals, where they work in hospitals around Greenville.
The goal of the project, Jones said, is to fill needs the students have experienced in those medical work environments.
Jones said she loved to see the creativity of the nursing students as they generated ideas for problem-solving in the workplace. “They’re not just thinking like nurses, they’re thinking like team members,” Jones said. Lovegrove said the engineering students offer another point of expertise on whether the project is possible. “You can imagine things you can’t actually build,” Lovegrove said. His class focuses on the software needed for design, so most of the students have not manufactured their designs before doing so for the project, Lovegrove said.
Although having the engineering students help the nursing students plan and produce their designs improved the original project, Lovegrove said the students do not plan to patent the work.
“We’re not in the business of producing medical devices,” Lovegrove said. “We’re in the business of training nursing students and engineering students.”