A group of smiling students from Meyers College of Nursing

Public Health Nursing and design thinking: Nurses as innovators during a crisis

In Public Health Nursing, a course offered at Rory Meyers College of Nursing, 222 undergraduate students participated in a new design-thinking project that focused on tackling large public health issues. These included infectious disease, policy gaps, and mental health concerns. In groups, students designed and proposed novel solutions to each of these challenges in relation to four well-known public health crises: separation at the border; the water crisis in Flint, MI; Superstorm Sandy; and Hurricane Maria.

As course coordinator, I engaged a team of faculty to work with students on this project. My original plan was to conduct a live in-person “hackathon” as an essential component of the semester. But the global pandemic necessitated a change in plans.

I had anticipated that the hackathon would have been done in person and held on a single day. It would have involved the coordination of all 200+ students in large rooms, separating them into small groups, guiding them in that work, and orienting those outside guests who were kind enough to offer their time and expertise to comment on the students’ proposals. After the move to remote instruction, how could this kind of learning experience possibly take place?

First, it was determined which portions of the day absolutely depended upon simultaneous activity and which could be conducted separately. Students were then tasked to find time to work together to  complete three steps: persona and problem statement creation, ideation, and prototyping.

After this preparation, students were ready to complete the hackathon through Zoom. Outside guests with expertise in public health, epidemiology, and design thinking entered the Zoom Testing Room, heard about the students’ innovations, and provided feedback. Students were then able to debrief about that feedback and update their prototypes. The final piece of the project was a recorded Zoom Presenting Room, where students presented and discussed their work before faculty through a PowerPoint poster session. Students then provided peer-to-peer feedback through Qualtrics surveys.

I’m happy to report the hackathon was a success. Students were able to follow the remote assignment guidelines without a glitch. They were also able to focus, apply their collective knowledge, and come up with the most professional, heartfelt, and creative solutions. Congrats to those students and the nursing faculty team for this terrific innovative work!


Stacen Keating is clinical assistant professor at Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Hear more about her experience teaching remotely on the Nurse Educator Podcast.