Innovation is defined as a new idea, method or device: the introduction of something new. But what does it look like in health care education, community collaboration and clinical delivery? 

In both my personal research and my professional leadership, I want to understand how we create environments where innovation and new ways of thinking can thrive. It’s what drives me and the entire team at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis every day. 

When it comes to institutional innovation, we must acknowledge that it is a gradual and long-term process. As leaders, we need to have a clear vision — guided by our strategic plan — and be willing to invest in initiatives that will increase the innovators within our school. This investment will yield fruitful results over the years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed academia to re-evaluate the structure of traditional health care education. Lucky for us, this School of Nursing was founded upon the idea that breaking traditional boundaries is required to change the status quo. That was the call from our co-founder Gordon Moore, who passed away earlier this year. Dr. Moore’s visionary perspective and lifelong dedication paved the way for extraordinary innovation and technological advancements that profoundly influence our daily existence. His generosity greatly shaped the future of health care throughout this school. 

Every person, regardless of their background, age or socioeconomic status, has a fundamental need for health care. By focusing on equity, we aim to reduce current disparities and ensure that vulnerable and marginalized groups have equal access to quality health care services. This year, our efforts to improve access hit the streets, literally, in a nurse-led mobile outreach project to provide care for homeless and refugee populations. It also brings eye-opening experiences to nurse practitioner and physician assistant students. We also stepped up to lead a collaborative effort with our fellow University of California nursing schools to tackle the mental health crisis in the state

But as Jacky Wright, the first chief technology and platform officer at McKinsey & Company, reminds us: “You cannot innovate if you do not have diversity of thought, diversity of experience and perspectives.”  

To that end, we partner with academic, employer, nurse professional and workforce development organizations to grow the number and diversity of nursing faculty and instructors. Our faculty explore inclusive teaching practices during simulation experiences to determine in what ways students’ experiences and instructors’ perceptions of simulation inclusiveness compare and contrast.  

To foster innovation, we must strive to not only provide clinical training for our health care students, but also establish strong collaborations with the community, engage in meaningful research and lead efforts that challenge existing norms. Researchers from our Family Caregiving Institute partner with adult day care centers in California to improve dementia care and advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging. A doctoral alumna leads UC Davis Medical Center’s efforts to deliver age-friendly care to its geriatric patients. And, an assistant professor designs gender-affirming systems of care for all of the UC Davis Health patients we serve. 

For all this forward-thinking progress, we respect our past. This year, we celebrated the inaugural nurse practitioner class at UC Davis. These nurses were trailblazers. At their 50th reunion, I could not help but be amazed at their pioneering spirits and just how innovative UC Davis was to anticipate future needs in health care. It continues to drive this School of Nursing five decades later as we develop new programs that meet the needs of California and the nation. I’m grateful for my National Advisory Council members, who brought robust discussions this year on how we can best prepare for a health care future based on what we can predict today. 

By recognizing our foundation of bold system change and embracing the ethical imperative of health equity for all, we strive to be a leader, innovator and universal connector in the pursuit of a healthier and more equitable world. By seeing the big picture, increasing prospective innovators and providing the right educational experiences and research expertise, we can build a vibrant culture of innovation that will drive tomorrow’s health care, today. 

I’m reminded of advice from business expert Steven Jeffes. He said, “Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop anew where few have dared to go.” 

I’m proud to be surrounded by those who dare – and to partner with each of you — as we infuse innovative ideas into the lifeblood of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and build a sustainable culture of innovation and leadership for optimal health for all.