Summer Institute

A collaboration between Penn Nursing, the Eidos LBGTQ+ Health Initiative, Johnson & Johnson, and the Community Collaboratory for Co-Creation, participants engaged in interdisciplinary morning sessions and afternoon group sessions to do their own active equity-centered, design thinking projects. Those led by Eidos were geared for LGBTQ community members and partners; sessions led by the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellowship program brought 20 nurse leaders from 10 hospitals around the country to design solutions for patients, health systems, and communities.

One attendee with the Eidos cohort, Penn Nursing alumna and business owner Jenna Perkins, RN, WHNP-BC, Nu’11, GNu’14,, spoke with Director of Innovation, Marion Leary, PhD, MPH, RN, GNu’13, GR’14, GR’23, about the impact the Institute made on her work and how she has translated her learning into a health-equity minded action plan. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

ML What is your background, and what drew you to the Summer Innovation Institute?

JP I went to undergrad in the school of Nursing and loved it— it was a challenge and I value my educational experience, so much so that I stayed for my graduate degree: I earned a master’s degree in the women’s health/gender-related program, and started my career in Washington, D.C. working in urology as a women’s health NP. I was able to bridge the world between patients having overactive bladder symptoms, vaginal symptoms, and painful intercourse. I developed a very niche practice, but also covered a lot—pee, poop, sex, breathing, and all dysfunction that can happen in the pelvic floor. Over a year ago, I took a leap of faith to start my own practice, DiscovHER Health. At a Penn Nursing Alumni event in Washington, D.C., I met Penn Nursing Board of Advisors member John Rydzewski W’75 WG’77, who asked if I’d met the Eidos team—and that’s how I ended up at the Summer Innovation Institute.

ML What was it about the Institute that you felt you really needed to be a part of?

JP There are not a lot of spaces for health care innovators to have community, nor spaces for health care innovators who specialize in caring for people in the LGBTQ+ community. It turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

ML What were the day-to-day sessions like for you?

JP The morning sessions were didactic training on what design is. Oftentimes, health care providers like me don’t learn about that—and so it was nice to reveal that the nursing model and the pathway to designing products are very similar. You have to listen to get an understanding of what the problem is. You have to work collaboratively with clients or patients. And you have to design products around the population once you really understand them. It was great to learn the theory behind design and recognize that I am a designer as a nurse. As a business owner, I’m a designer because I’m designing a business around my people. Being able to take the theory I learned in the mornings and then in the afternoon sessions work within my offerings and my practice to apply the theories I had learned was invaluable.

ML What value does what you learned at the Summer Innovation Institute bring to the work that you’re doing now?

JP Being able to sink into the fact that I am a designer has given me a lot of confidence to do things boldly, to say that I don’t have to follow the road of what other entrepreneurs in health care are doing. And then the technical skills—learning that the same way that you have to prototype physical products, you have to do the same with a virtual product or with a practice. I was able to take that information and say that these products I have right now don’t have to be the end; they are my minimally-viable products. I can have different iterations and make them better and better. You just have to get started.

ML How do you think you’ll use what you learned at the Summer Innovation Institute?

JP I’ve already used a lot in my practice, doing things like changing my mission statement to make it really clear we provide shame-free care for people who need our services. Being able to identify what I was already doing and put a name to it was helpful. I didn’t come into it knowing that I was freeing people from shame; I came into it knowing that I was helping people feel better, helping people with pelvic pain, with these intimate issues. But the idea that I’m able to empower them and reduce the shame they have around their bodies and through lack of education is so helpful. I’m using the network that I’ve been able to develop through the Institute—working with and meeting with other CEOs, knowing I’m not alone out here, winging it, by myself. There are other people that also want to help vulnerable populations, that want to have a heart-led practice or business.

ML Can you talk about what engagement was like between you and the other attendees at the Summer Innovation Institute and how that diversity in attendees contributed to what you learned and how you interacted at the Institute?

JP The Johnson & Johnson folks are the cream of the crop in nursing. So you have nurse leaders from all over the country, all in one space. That was beautiful for me to see as a nurse. I wasn’t a part of that cohort, but still had opportunities to connect with them often. I also had the opportunity to connect with people outside of nursing who didn’t come to the conference with some of the hang-ups that I think we as nurses come with— they were already operating freely as designers and leaders within their businesses. Being able to pair both of my worlds was very valuable. There was time at lunch where we were all sitting together and working in the afternoons with all of the leaders from Eidos—I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of both of those worlds, and it was incredible.

ML Why do you think it’s important for clinicians, innovators, and providers to attend a summer institute focused on health equity and innovation?

JP It’s important for us to do this because there aren’t many opportunities outside of spaces that are curated for this, right? There’s not a lot of opportunity in the grueling work that we’re doing as clinicians to stop and think about a health equity lens. Signing up for the experience really gave space and time to something that’s a priority for me, but not something that I was able to always be thinking about when I am designing or working. We can get caught up in the details of the day-to-day of how to do something and not have to sit back and think, okay, how does health equity come into play here? Having that dedicated time to say, “we’re going to focus on designing, but we’re going to focus on it with the lens of health equity at the forefront,” was important.

ML From your point of view, how does the equity-centered design lens integrate with the human-centered design, design thinking work that you were doing? What is your sense of how the health equity and equitycentered design framework integrate with human-centered design?

JP At every step, you weren’t just learning about human-centered design, you were learning about equitycentered design with humans at the center of it. Like, how do we make this equitable for all humans? They did a great job of interweaving these things. So it didn’t feel like we were learning about two separate things. It felt like everything was as it should be, like design should always have a health equity lens. That’s really one of the takeaways from the Summer Innovation Institute—that even though you’re doing a human-centered design or design thinking project, health equity has to be a part of that, and an equity-centered framework has to be the foundation throughout the entire project. And not just a sort-of one-off in the beginning or the end, but throughout each phase. It has to be embedded or baked into the work.

ML Is there anything else you want to say about the Summer Innovation Institute or your experience there or the work that you’re doing?

JP It was beautiful for me to come back. I grew up on campus. You know, I was 17 years old, very wet behind the ears, when I landed in West Philly for my first degree at Penn Nursing. To see myself now as a designer, as a business owner… having the opportunity to come back to campus and walking back into the School of Nursing was so special. I’m really proud of my progress. To think that I designed DiscovHer Health based off my relationships with my girlfriends on campus because they were asking me about yeast infections and UTIs and all of these other questions. I was like, hey, there’s a business here. I literally got the email address for DiscovHer Health when I was still in undergrad. Going through grad school, getting the technical skills to actually be a provider, with DiscovHer Health being in the background of my thinking. Even a few years ago when I was interviewed for a Penn Nursing Alumni profile, I said I want to start a practice. To then have started that practice and be back on campus as an innovator, as a designer, as the business owner is incredible.

Penn Nursing Magazine, Fall 2023 Issue

Read the Full Story

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

The Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative connects innovators in LGBTQ+ health with Penn knowledge and resources.