Week 11- Characteristics of Innovators and Change Agents in Healthcare

The picture above depicts many of the qualities of a change agent in healthcare. Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown are responsible for the discovery of nystatin, one of the first effective antifungals to be used successfully in healthcare. They both had tumultuous family backgrounds and few financial resources to pursue their careers. They overcame enormous obstacles to become successful microbiologists and obtain doctoral degrees in a world where women had very little opportunity (Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2010). Their biographies are replete with examples of persistence and collaboration.

Jack Andraka is another example of healthcare innovation at its finest. Jack is a high school student. He has invented a screening test for pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancer that can be completed in just a few minutes at a fraction of the cost of traditional testing. The test can also confirm the diagnosis in the cancer’s early stages. Andraka has won numerous awards in his young career, including the prestigious Intel Science Fair award for $75,000.  He too overcame significant hurdles in his work. His work with pancreatic cancer came after the death of a close family friend. His research was personal to him. Despite his already tremendous success, he plans to continue his research work. He saw a problem and works diligently to seek a solution. His message to the world- “Why not you? Why can’t you come up with the next great innovation or cure?” (Daugherty, 2014).

A third example of innovation and change is the work done by the Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic sponsors an annual medical innovation summit that brings together leaders from health care, business, finance, pharmaceutical research, information technology and engineering. The collaborative work of the summit distributes information on the ten innovations thought to have the greatest impact on healthcare in the upcoming year. This is a very exciting list!

Each of these three examples highlights specific characteristics of innovators and change agents within health care. These qualities include persistence despite obstacles, diligent hard work, creating a collaborative effort, making the research personal and distributing the evidence in an exciting way. These qualities closely align with the tools necessary for creating good policy. Jewell and Bero (2008) write that policy makers often rely on common sense and personal stories to make decisions. They also value collaborative relationships and practical, defined outcomes.

This is an exciting time to be involved in health care. The capacity and resources for innovation are profound. Even within the delivery of palliative care, change and innovation are essential. Innovative solutions are needed to bring this service to remote and underserved parts of California.


Chemical Heritage Foundation. (2010). Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown. Retrieved from http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/pharmaceuticals/preventing-and-treating-infectious-diseases/hazen-and-brown.aspx

Daugherty, S. (2014). Teen inventor sets his sights on new tests for cancer, pollution. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141221-andraka-emerging-explorer-inventor-cancer-profile/

Jewell, C. J. and Bero, L. A. (2008). “Developing good taste in evidence”: Facilitators of and hindrances to evidence-informed health policymaking in state government. The Millbank Quarterly, 86(2), 177-208.

Landau, E. (2013). You don’t know them; they may have changed your life. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/14/health/lifeswork-gallery-less-famous/


One thought on “Week 11- Characteristics of Innovators and Change Agents in Healthcare

  1. lynnkrus says:

    Jack Andraka’s story is very inspirational and interesting to watch unfold. It teaches us that anything is possible. It also enforces the need for multidisciplinary collaboration and to capitalize on our interests in other disciplines to make a connection. If Jack had not had an interest in carbon nanotubes, then he may not have known this technology existed and how it could be applicable to the health sciences. It also sounds like he had a very supportive environment. He had a mother that was an anesthesiologist and an older brother that was also interested in the sciences. His mother even provided them with their own lab and supported his interests at age 3. Human life is very precious and when we support and feel supported by those around us, I hope that everyone can find ways to use their talents to become a change agent in their life or in the lives of others.


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