Skip to main content

New Online Curriculum Equips Nurses to Lead Innovation by Offering Training in Design Thinking

Unique suite of materials developed at Penn Nursing in collaboration with the Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation is available free of charge to all nurses, nursing programs, and health care innovators.

Nurses make up the largest and most trusted group of health care professionals, work on the front lines of the health care system, and are frequently called on to devise on-the-spot solutions to urgent health care problems, yet most nurses receive little or no training in how to effectively address these design challenges.  An online curriculum called Design Thinking for Health ( being launched today will support creative, action-oriented thinking and methodological problem solving by nursing innovators – including students, bedside nurses, clinical leaders, and researchers – by providing access to Design Thinking techniques with a focus on nursing-relevant issues.

The new open source Design Thinking for Health curriculum will be available free and may be used or adapted by any nurse or nursing program to support nursing-driven innovation. It was created through a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) and the Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation and will be jointly owned by the University of Pennsylvania and the foundation.

“Nurses are one of the great untapped resources in health care innovation,” said Ahrin Mishan, Executive Director of the Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation. “We believe the time is now for nurses to move beyond their reputation as ‘masters of the quick fix’ and become designers of lasting change.”

Innovation belongs in the nursing curriculum,” said Penn Nursing Dean Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN. “I am proud of the partnership that Penn Nursing and the Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation have forged as we worked to create this important offering to provide nurses with the knowledge and skills to take the lead in designing a healthier future, regardless of their experience, work setting, or location.”  

The Five Core Elements of Design Thinking
Design Thinking is an action-oriented approach to creating solutions that are focused on the needs and preferences of the people who will use them. It is noted for helping innovators recognize unmet needs, ideate more quickly, generate solutions that are bold yet feasible, and reduce the long-term risk of launching a new idea by emphasizing early and frequent prototyping and testing.

“It is essential that we help all nurses become innovators, which is why this versatile and modular curriculum is designed to be ready to be taken up, adapted, used as a reference, or infused into practice,” said Therese Richmond, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Dean of Research and Innovation at Penn Nursing and Principal Investigator of the Design Thinking for Health project.   

The five core stages of Design Thinking are: 

  • Empathy: immersing oneself in the community being served in order to gain insight;
  • Define: defining the problem from the point of view of stakeholders and developing a “problem statement;”
  • Ideate: using brainstorming activities to generate ideas for tackling a problem;
  • Prototype: building real-life, low-fidelity models of a solution; and
  • Test: an iterative process of quick and inexpensive tests to gain feedback and refine a solution.

Curated Toolbox of Resources and Activities
The online platform includes both original content created at Penn Nursing and curated resources from other Design Thinking experts including Ideo, frog, Interaction Design Foundation, and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Learning materials are presented in several learning formats on the Design Thinking for Health platform: 

  • Modules, with overview videos featuring Design Thinking experts, additional resources (e.g., TEDx Talks), readings, and step-by-step guided practice activities.
  • Case Studies, videos of nursing innovators discussing how Design Thinking informs their work.
  • Original podcasts, offering perspective from thought leaders in nursing education.

“Innovation is not just one thing,” said Marion Leary, MSN, MPH, RN, Director of Innovation at Penn Nursing and Co-Principal Investigator of Design Thinking for Health. “It includes technology and medical devices, but also the methodologies we use to solve complex health problems, the systems and processes we create, and how we communicate with our patients, their families, and the broader public.”

Explore the Design Thinking for Health platform at