Nursing is a hands-on profession. Highly trained and educated, nurses are the true caregivers to patients in hospitals, homes and communities. They are in the trenches of healthcare, trying to make it all work for their patients.

Although the healthcare industry has grown exponentially with technology, there certainly is still room for improvement. Many nurses have gone to work and thought to themselves, "There has got to be a better way to do this. If only there was some tool or device that would make this task easier." Or maybe they have already thought of a concept, but just have no idea where to start to make it a reality.

The first nurse hackathon aims to help by bringing the value of nursing innovation to the forefront. The Nurse Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit and Hackathon will be held June 17-19 at Northeastern University Boston Campus, and nurses from all practice settings are encourage to attend.

The term "hackathon" is derived from the term "hack" — to write computer program for enjoyment coupled with the concept of a marathon. Hackathons are not a new concept. Credited as being started at a programmer's conference in Silicone Valley in 1999, hackathons are now being embraced in myriad industries, especially health care.

The idea of a hackathon is to bring together people from different specialties, such as engineers, computer programmers, scientists and other industry leaders. The participants are pitched an idea or problem and then spend an intense period of time trying to solve that problem essentially a think tank on steroids.

The first healthcare-centered hackathon was the public-private partnership between the U.S. government and Health 2.0 in 2010. Since then, health-focused hackathons have been increasing as the benefits and results are unmatched. As healthcare hackathons continue to grow and show success, major healthcare industry leaders are also paying attention and becoming active participants in helping to bring viable solutions to healthcare.

However, as the value of healthcare hackathons has grown, the largest group of healthcare workers has been absent nurses. Considering nurses will use, access or assist with the use of 90 percent of all devices that come to market, it would seem appropriate that having nursing input would be welcomed.

Rebecca Love, RN, MSN, ANP, founder of Hire Nurses and co-chair of the Nurse Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit and Hackathon, went to her first medical hackathon at Tufts Medical Center and quickly realized there was a huge need for nursing input into the solutions for the problems being presented.

"I was one of only two nurses at the entire event," she said. "But it was an amazing opportunity to spend 24 hours with various professionals to develop a product. In fact, we won second place. Many hospitals are starting hackathons. Although nurses do not traditionally attend, if a nurse is on their team, they tend to do very well."

From that experience, she quickly realized the value of nurses as innovators and problem solvers was clearly being undervalued, and the idea of a nursing hackathon was fostered. After approaching a few local schools in her area, Love found a welcome match with Northeastern University's College of Nursing. Led by Dean Nancy P. Hanrahan, the three-day event hopes to empower nurses as change agents and true innovators in healthcare.

"We hope nurses who participate will think differently, become problem solvers and be empowered by the knowledge and expertise they already own," Love said.

This innovative event will begin on Friday, June 17 with a summit, keynote speakers and "living room" sessions by business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. The hackathon will launch Friday evening in which participants will have the opportunity to partner with other nurses and industry leaders to collaborate, design and brainstorm in an accelerated setting. The weekend event will conclude Sunday, June 19 with an awards ceremony and prizes for the top three innovations.

Love described how the nurse hackathon will allow nurses to bring an idea to life by meeting the people who can make it happen. From programmers to engineers to coders, nurses can have access to unique skill sets they normally would not have access to.

Many industry giants, such as Nike and Google, have learned that to have success the customer needs to be engaged in product development. This leads to better products that people like and use and ultimately corporate success.

However, healthcare product developers tend to perceive a problem then try to create a solution, rather than tapping into the consumers, who are the healthcare providers and patients. Ultimately, the patients and healthcare providers should drive product development, especially in the complex environment of healthcare.

If there were ever an industry that needed a multifaceted approach, it would certainly be healthcare which makes hackathons fertile grounds for innovation.

"If there is going to be a healthcare product developed, it needs a nurse's input," Love said. "We have a unique perspective that cannot be underestimated."

With more than 50 healthcare companies planning to attend, the Nurse Hackathon will undoubtedly be a notable event. Of special interest, the Federal Drug Administration is sending a special representative to give insight into the process of having devices approved for use. Again, adding to the unique opportunity that only such an event can offer.

So, if you have a healthcare problem that needs a solution but do not know where to start, you might want to consider the Nurse Hackathon. Not only will you be part of a historic event, but you might also develop the innovative skills inside you.

For more information on this event or to register, please go to the Northeastern University page here.