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Spearheading the Nursing Innovation Movement
Episode

Olga Kagan, Founder of FANI

Spearheading the Nursing Innovation Movement

When someone’s passionate about something, it goes across the board in everything they do. Today’s guest is Olga Kagan, a registered nurse with a background experience that goes back to her childhood when she gave her grandmother her insulin shots; to cardiothoracic ICUs, other clinical settings, and finally academia!

From a very early point in her career, Olga started innovating and her work was constantly gyrating around academia. Olga’s work has inspired many others, from fabricating reusable gowns and facemasks to founding community groups on social media. She is also a passionate educator who brings a different perspective to the field. Tune in to listen to her experience and her journey! 

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Spearheading the Nursing Innovation Movement

About Olga Kagan:

Olga Kagan, Ph.D., RN, is a nurse with expertise in nursing informatics, healthcare innovation,

research, policy, and education. She is a recipient of several honors and awards for her contributions to improving the health and welfare of populations with various healthcare needs.

Dr. Kagan regularly contributes to textbooks, mentors nurses, and serves on boards of several professional organizations and start-up companies. 

Olga Kagan is the founder of a healthcare consulting firm based in New York and the professional Food Allergy Nurses Interest (FANI) group on LinkedIn. Currently, she serves as an adjunct faculty at the City University of New York School of Professional Studies and Molloy College, Barbara H. Hagan School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

 

OR_SONSIEL Olga Kagan: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

OR_SONSIEL Olga Kagan: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

OR SONSIEL Intro:
Welcome to the SONSIEL podcast, where we host interviews with the most transformational nervous scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Through sharing their personal journeys, we create inspiration, provide guidance, and give you actionable ideas you can use to be a catalyst for change.

Hiyam Nadel:
Hey everyone, welcome to our first-ever SONSIEL podcast. I am thrilled to introduce Olga Kagan as our first guest and I will have Olga come on and introduce herself.

Olga Kagan:
Hi, Hiyam! Thank you so much for having me today. And my name is Olga Kagan, I am a nurse with over 25 years of experience. My background is in nursing informatics, healthcare, innovation, research policy, and education, and I’m excited to be here with you today.

Hiyam Nadel:
Thank you so much. We’re excited to hear about your journey, Olga. But tell me, I’m always inspired about why people get into healthcare, could you tell me a little bit about that?

Olga Kagan:
Absolutely, thank you for asking. So I will tell you, my mother actually was a special education teacher and my grandfather was a World War Two veteran. And they were the people who gave themselves and, you know, growing around them and seeing them as my role models, kind of, you know, gave me that inspiration to be in the helping profession. And I always knew that I wanted to either be in education or healthcare. And long and behold, I ended up as a healthcare professional and now in academia and education. So I think just being in that environment around those individuals truly shaped who I am today.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yes. And interestingly, before we get onto your academia role, I would love to know when you first started, what patient population did you really gravitate towards?

Olga Kagan:
Over the years, I worked in different settings. So in fact, even before I became a registered nurse, I was about 13, I think when I remember commuting to my grandmother’s house early in the morning before my school started to give her insulin injections. And then while I was a nursing student back in my country of birth, I was you know, people would seek my advice of all different ages and backgrounds, whether it’s asking me to give them injections of antibiotics or dressing changes or therapeutic massage or just the listening ear. And I never really declined, I always, kind of, answered their call. And when I moved to the United States, I went back into nursing, and I started working in, my first job was in a critical care setting and cardiothoracic ICU and stepped down, and then recovery room. And then subsequently, I worked in the clinic setting with workers and volunteers post 9/11. And then I also worked in the community setting, focusing on education and health promotion and prevention across all different age groups, and currently, I’m in academia and also in private practice.

Hiyam Nadel:
Interestingly, you know, what I love about nurses truly is that one nurse can have a very, varied experiences, as you stated, working in the community or critical care, etc. It’s incredible how one nurse can have so much experience and what they can bring to the table. But I did want to talk a little bit more about how you got into academia exactly?

Olga Kagan:
That actually happened, well, first of all, I think as nurses, we are educators. You know, I’ve always been involved in some sort of development of educational tools and materials for my patients and providing it at the bedside. And then later on, when I entered my graduate school, especially doctorate studies, and I started to mentor younger nurses who were entering into the profession. And then when I graduated with my doctorate degree, I was offered to be a guest lecturer and then as an adjunct professor at two different universities. And I took that on because I really enjoy teaching and sort of like cultivating this new generation of nurses. And so that’s how I ended up in education.

Hiyam Nadel:
Wow. I really would love to come back to that. I think when you say, you know, the next generation, I really want to dive into that a little bit deeper. But first, tell me, when did you first recognize you were an innovator?

Olga Kagan:
Interestingly, I didn’t think of calling myself an innovator until I attended SONSIEL’s inaugural hackathon. So looking back, I realize I innovated quite a bit, mostly out of necessity, really, and as early as I was probably in nursing residency back in Tashkent City in the early nineties, so back then we had socialized medicine and we practiced with bare minimum, very different from the United States. So for example, we didn’t have personal protective equipment available to us or any sort of disposable or single-use items like we have here, like gloves or masks or syringes or needles, etc. So we had to sterilize and reuse our needles, our glass jars, or syringes. And I was assigned at the time to a hospital on the outskirts of the city where patients were treated for tuberculosis, of different organs. And I was primarily working in the pulmonary department with patients who had open lung tuberculosis. So the first thing I did when I got home, I asked my mother to help me make reusable face masks and gowns and also the booties to put over my, my shoes because, you know, I, right? Because I said, you know what? I have to protect myself because I witnessed one of the nurses who was there working for over 20 years actually got sick, and I said to myself, I don’t want to be that nurse, I’m too young, you know? And I understood the dangers. So I, I wanted to make sure I had my protective equipment and my, my mother’s skill at the time, you know, she was a special ed teacher, but she also taught culinary arts in the university and pedagogy and some other sewing and modeling type of courses. So she really helped me with prototyping and developing the personal protective equipment for myself. So that was an interesting experience. And then I suppose since I moved to the United States, like my drive to create and innovate was even more ignited. And, because when I moved here, I said to myself, Oh my God, you know, I volunteered at one of those hospitals near my home. And I said, you know, there’s so much, there’s just so much more here. And I can do so much more with what I have here. And so just because of the abundance of the resources that I saw here made me just so much more inspired to continue innovating. And so I was also part of the building team of the World Trade Center, a working volunteer medical screening program at Mount Sinai Surgical Center for Occupational Health. And that program, we kind of build from scratch as well. And so just being part of that innovative program that helps so many people, where we developed educational materials and involved in iteration and testing and administration of the assessment tools from the inception of the program and later in my career, I even ventured outside of nursing a little bit and ran a company which helped pay my graduate school bills. So then I started a consulting firm and I also initiated several groups based on my professional interest. So one of them was the Food Allergy Nurses Interest Group on LinkedIn, because I’m very interested in passionate about bringing change in areas that are still sort of emerging, and help patients and families living with potentially life-threatening allergies. And another group that you might know, of course, is the Collaborative
Healthcare Innovation, Research, and Problem Solving Group, which emerged as a result of the hackathons that my colleagues and I participated with, and all of those nurses are from SONSIEL. So, you know, just some of those innovative things that I’ve been able to pursue throughout my career, and just wanted to highlight a few of those for you.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yeah, it’s interesting because they say necessity really introduces you to innovation, right? Out of necessity.

Olga Kagan:
That’s true.

Hiyam Nadel:
To innovate. And yet, you know, you said that there’s a lot more resources here when you move to this country. Can you expand on that a little bit more? Because then I would think, well, we really would love to know more globally what is happening around the globe with nurses and innovating, because if there aren’t as many resources, you would think there would be more innovation. But I don’t know if I’m sort of thinking the right way.

Olga Kagan:
Actually, Hiyam, you’re absolutely right. So, for example, I’ll tell you, back in my country of birth where I was in healthcare, you know, and, you know, money and resources is what really drives innovation, because there are lack of those, then nothing is happening. So I’ll tell you, back in the day when I worked with those surgeons and physicians and nurses, they were amazing. They had excellent skills, but they were so limited in their resources, they could not, there was just no money to, for research, for development of new tools. And, you know, we function at the bare minimum. For example, people had to, when they came for surgery, we had to make a list of things for them to bring, including …, syringes, if they wanted disposable ones, for example, which they would get someplace else other than the hospital or even sutures will tell you what size sutures have to bring, you know, medications that they will need. So and people who could afford it obviously were able to afford it and bring it. But hospital oftentimes couldn’t provide those things because we were government-funded and we had bare minimum. So we just had things that were absolutely needed, anything beyond that, patients had to supply. And again, it came to the question of equity. If you had money, you were able to bring those things in. If you didn’t, it was too bad. And so when you start, when you want to innovate and you don’t have that backing those resources, it’s very difficult. It’s really a major barrier to jump-starting any sort of innovation. And as we all know, innovation requires research sometimes, oftentimes. And that’s something, you know, you need teams, you need collaboration. And back in the day, again, technology wasn’t up to what we have now, which really is another excellent, excellent way for people to connect and collaborate across different teams across the globe and disciplines. And so that’s something we also didn’t have and much different now. But when I started, I certainly could see the differences from back then to now.

Hiyam Nadel:
Right, very fascinating points. I really need to take the time to digest all that. Olga, you mentioned several times about SONSIEL, can you tell me a little bit more how it helped you in your journey?

Olga Kagan:
So when I joined, actually, I first attended SONSIEL’s inaugural event and subsequently, immediately after I joined the organization because I was just so inspired. And, you know, it’s an organization that I wished existed, and when it did come to fruition, I was so excited that it was there. And that’s the place where I was able to connect with like-minded individuals. And to me, that was just a community that I wanted to be part of, a community that inspired me, people that I met through it is, just fulfill, you know, everything that I do. And so I’m just so happy that it’s in existence and that it provides the forum needed to jumpstart nursing innovation and to support those nurses in their entrepreneurial journeys. So I’m excited for the future of this organization and just seeing it grow and seeing it bring so much good into this world.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yeah, I do have to agree with you. And I think for many of us, when we’re innovators, we’re sort of lost for a little while, aren’t we? We know we think a little bit differently. We see the world differently. And I feel the same way about SONSIEL, I think it was, oh my goodness, I found my tribe and this is where I belong. So I’m very excited to hear that from you as well.

Olga Kagan:
May I, actually wanted to …

Hiyam Nadel:
Yeah, sure!

Olga Kagan:
Because I tell you, it’s interesting, because SONSIEL really also helped me recognize that I was indeed an innovator, because it also, it gave me that language and it gave me this confidence to pursue areas outside of my comfort zone. So, for instance, I recognized that my knowledge and skills are highly valuable. And, you know, not only among my own peers that reached out to me for mentorship or advice, etc., or different opportunities, but also companies and professionals outside of nursing who all of a sudden were seeking my expertise and asking me to join their team. So I just thought it was incredible how I was able to view myself from a different lens. And that’s because of my experience, I think, at SONSIEL.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yeah, I agree, it’s interesting. I think as people outside of nursing begin to learn what nurses can contribute to all areas of healthcare, I think that more and more people will be reaching out to get nurses input, which I hope is one of my goals anyway. And so as an innovator, tell me some of the good, the bad, and the ugly. You know, what are some of the biggest challenges you face as an innovator or coming up with a unique approach to anything, and what was exciting about it at the same time?

Olga Kagan:
Well, that’s an excellent question, because I think, I don’t know if I could say there’s one particular challenge, but there are at least two that I, I recognize one of which I mentioned was the resources and finances, and two I think is finding the time to devote to any given venture, right? So, because nurses are so busy, you know, they are working full-time, they have family demands, they have other demands in their lives, and then if they want to innovate, they need that. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of expertise and devotion and being able to pursue any particular venture, right? So in my case, for example, I applied for a couple of grants to help with the development of an educational gaming app, but I was able to secure any funding to move my project along, for example. So that was sort of an example of how resources really sort of stagnated one of my innovative projects, which I was very passionate about and I still am. So it’s taking, it’s taking time to do that just because of the resources that I am still trying to pursue. But then most recently, I also, the group that I started working, this group I was part of the Allergy Nurses Interest Group, we started working on a certified allergy nurse educator role to fill the gap in the field of allergy, asthma, immunology. And since many of us are so busy, sometimes they just tickle to find time to meet, for example, so we can move things along because everybody’s, you know, we’re all nurses from across the country, and just to coordinate the schedules and times, it’s quite challenging. And but we’re still committed and we’re still kind of plowing forward with this new role because we understand that it’s important and much needed. And so we’re, right now like, for instance, looking for certain opportunities within that role, looking to, if we had resources, we could hire somebody to help us with it. And that all of this kind of ties together with time and money and resources.

Hiyam Nadel:
Right.

Olga Kagan:
And in terms of the approaches, I think I used to overcome challenges, which was part of the second part of your question. So I really tried to build consensus and try to bring people together, like currently we have, like, I’ve been elected on the board of the HIMSS New York State chapter and I’m also a co-chair of the nursing community there. So we’ve been actually successful in less than one year of my serving on the board, we’ve been successful in approving a brand new educational program where members will be able to learn from leading experts while earning free contact hours and also having an opportunity to network. So this will be our first event for the entire HIMSS Global Organization, and so we’re very excited about getting it off the ground this year. So this was a team effort and we were able to garner support from our board members, from we’ve established an education task force, we had a planning committee, we were able to build partnership, and secure sponsors and speakers, and that all happened in less than five months. So sometimes when you have that support, things happen much quicker and you can really get to where you want to be relatively easily. And those nurses who are listening today who are interested and I’m not sure when this podcast will be aired, but this event is going to be happening on May 7th and I’d love to see nurses take advantage of it so.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yeah, thank you, Olga. That’s great. And I think what I heard from you is really patience and grit. Those are two qualifying factors for, to be an innovator. I wanted to, about the allergy work that you’re doing, which is very fascinating. Tell me how you started on that journey. Was it a was just an interest for you? Was there a personal reason? Tell us a little more about that.

Olga Kagan:
Well, actually, yes, both. So I guess in nursing school, we really don’t devote much time to allergies other than anaphylaxis related to perhaps blood transfusions or medications, and rarely spoke about any sort of food allergies. And then later in life, when I had children, both of them had quite severe food allergies, several times near-death experiences, which sort of, yeah, it was tough because even going into emergency room, I realized that healthcare providers, including nurses and physicians, weren’t well versed on how to address anaphylaxis, and it was really scary. And I said to myself, you know what? Something has to change. You know, we need more education and we really need to make sure this community is supported. And so I started doing some research in this area I focused on in this area also within my doctorate studies, my dissertation was focused on policy around emergency epinephrine preparedness and administration on college campuses because that was another area that was lacking is that preparedness within educational institutions, starting from schools to institutions of higher education. And so same thing with the communities at the time there was very little awareness. It has gotten much better now and we know that there’s a lot more in this area as more and more people are being diagnosed, including adult … of food allergies. And so there’s a lot of work to be done in this area. It’s emerging and we certainly need to address, just like we have addressed issues related to diabetes, which has obviously been around much, much longer than food ingest anaphylaxis. And so we’re trying to really build bridges and just center around education and preparedness in the area of food ingest anaphylaxis. And so that’s sort of, I surround myself with individuals with the same passion around this topic made a difference. And that’s how we are now pursuing this new role of a certified allergy nurse educator, which is sort of a concept right now, and we’re hoping to make that happen, probably going to take a few years, but we’re committed and we’re hoping to get the right people on board and and get the funding and interest that will move this forward.

Hiyam Nadel:
Oh, it’s certainly needed even in my, my own practice as well. And I see all the allergies just continue to rise. And so I hope somebody out there that’s listening to you today will reach out and help with that endeavor, I think it’s really critical. I did want to go back and I love when you say we’re preparing the next generation. And do you think that innovation should be intertwined with the traditional nursing curricula for our future nurses?

Olga Kagan:
Absolutely. And, you know, as you know, I wear many hats, right? So and I’m excited about different things, but whether from the scientific perspective or education, I think it’s absolutely imperative that we include innovation in nursing curriculum. And I believe it’s already, you know, when we talk about the 2030 goals, right, and it’s already part of it. And I’m hoping that it’s just going to become one of those normal, quote-unquote, right, for nursing education. So we need to look at bringing qualified educators to teach our experts to make sure that we develop the curriculum that is in sync with the innovation that is happening around the, around not only in the United States, but around the world, because there are countries that are ahead of us and there are countries who are behind us that are behind us. And so we should be able to not only look up to those who are ahead, but also pull along those are lagging behind because again, I think just always thinking of equity and we want to make sure, because some countries they still don’t have drinking water, right? And we’re talking about virtual reality here in the United States, right? Or we’re talking about prescription apps in Germany, for example, right? So you could see how the disparities that exist globally, and I think we need to be very mindful of this because we have to make sure, and I think with the COVID-19 pandemic was sort of so right, how some countries have their vaccines or, or supplies, protective equipment more so than others, just because of that availability of resources that countries were able to allocate to these things and countries that weren’t able to allocate and needed help. And so I just want to make sure that when we talk about nursing education and innovation in the curriculum, that it’s not only limited to us here in the United States, but actually is expanded beyond our country.

Hiyam Nadel:
Exactly, I love that. And whenever I give presentations, I always say the power of we, you know, if we were able to form some sort of a coalition and share what we know, what we don’t know, I think we could advance innovation a much faster pace that would benefit all and really reach health equity. And I really believe that. But it’s again, in my mind, it’s still a concept and hopefully someday we’ll pursue it.

Olga Kagan:
I actually wanted to say, SONSIEL, I think is well positioned for that because of their international influence and membership. And I think, well, this organization as possibly being one of those driver organizations for this type of work, and I just wanted to mention that.

Hiyam Nadel:
Yes, absolutely, absolutely. We have global traction already. So I, before we wrap up for the day, is there anything you would like to leave the audience with just to wrap up? And if people wanted to reach out to you, is there a way to do that?

Olga Kagan:
Yes, absolutely. So a couple of things. First of all, I want to leave the audience today with just the thought that while we all know healthcare is a business, I really want to make sure that we think of people first and then money and then everything else and that one thing I’d like to leave the audience with today is the idea of please stay engaged, put people first, don’t become complacent, don’t settle for less, and make sure you are happy and content with your choices. I think that’s very important, because I know a lot of people who do what they absolutely hate and they’re unhappy and they know that’s how they burn out and especially in the nursing profession. So I just want to make sure that if you’re listening and you’re in that position, it’s never too late to look outside and to see what’s out there, talk to people, go back to school, whatever it is that you think will help you get out of that state of mind and just give up, don’t. So I just want to make sure that kind of thinking, … among our nurses, which helped me, and I hope it will help someone else. And so the way to contact me is I am on LinkedIn so you can find me there, I’m on Twitter and I’m also right now on the board of HIMSS, as I mentioned. So they’re welcome to join me as a member there or just reach out to me. And I think that’s probably it on my end.

Hiyam Nadel:
That’s beautiful. Oh, God. I want to thank you so much. I’ve learned so much from you.

Hiyam Nadel:
Thanks for tuning in to the SONSIEL podcast. If today’s podcast inspired you, we invite you to join our tribe or support our mission by visiting us at SONSIEL.org. That’s S O N S I E l.org.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Nurses usually have very varied experiences. 
  • Innovation comes out of necessity. 
  • In developing countries, access to resources and innovation go hand in hand. 
  • When projects have support, they quickly take off and start showing results. 

 

Resources: