What is a Nursing Hackathon?

by Robin Young-Cournoyer, Associate Professor, Goodwin University

The Society of Nurse Scientists Innovators Entrepreneurs & Leaders (SONSIEL) is a grassroots organization that promotes nursing innovation. President Rebecca Love and the very dedicated volunteer board are the key stakeholders enabling nurses to be change agents in health care.

In 2019, I attended my first Nursing Hackathon in New Jersey, sponsored by SONSIEL and Johnson & Johnson. It was the most inspiring conference I have ever attended. The nurses in attendance were full of energy and innovative ideas to improve health care. All I could think about was how to incorporate this concept into my own classroom. How could I create a nursing student hackathon?

Nursing education is a collaborative effort between the student and educator. Active student participation leads to a successful academic journey and stronger critical thinking skills. In Goodwin University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing  (ABSN) program, the nursing students were introduced to a nurse hackathon. This group of students began the process prior to clinical and were able to identify five areas in health care needing improvement. They were tasked to identify a gap in health care, present a pitch, research, present their group proposals, and gather a tribe that was passionate about that topic. Each week the students spent 15 to 30 minutes in class with their groups, creating their pitches, and researching their ideas.

You may be asking why in the world a professor would choose to pilot a nurse hackathon with a group of “newbies.”  I have been a nurse for 40 years and continue to learn every day. My goal with this exercise was to build a foundation of innovation in my students that would ultimately improve health care at the bedside. This also seems to me to be in the very spirit of Goodwin University’s commitment to Universal Design for Learning, a pedagogical approach that empowers individual learners with optional way to demonstrate their mastery of important information.

As a result, the five amazing ideas, presented by students at Goodwin University in December 2021, far exceeded my expectations. The final presentations were viewed by our five panelists:

Judy Resnick, Retired Executive Director, Connecticut Business, and Industry Association (CBIA)

Mark Scheinberg, President of Goodwin University

Dr. Sandi Coyne-Gilbert, Program Director, Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, Goodwin University

Dr. Matt Connell, Program Director, Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Network (ENet), Goodwin University

Jennifer Wallace, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Lawrence Memorial Regis College and participant in a fellowship program with SONSIEL.

The panelists were extremely impressed with the innovative ideas that were presented. They provided constructive and encouraging feedback to each group. We also had a very special guest speaker, Brian Mohika, entrepreneur and board member of SONSIEL. While working as a specialist in Interventional Radiology, he launched CathWear, a company founded to improve the quality of life for individuals who have undergone medical treatment by restoring their dignity and privacy during treatment and recovery. Brian is an RN and shared his story of Nurse innovation.

The real lesson here is that as veteran health care workers, we may get complacent with the status quo, completing our tasks the same way we always have. Therefore, great changes are needed. Including a Hackathon as a required part of the curriculum is an excellent alternative form of learning. It offers a space for students to become passionate about their learning in an interactive and engaging environment. As a nurse educator, you will be amazed at the topic selection and how these evolve. This collaborative and innovative process will guide students to become the leaders and change agents we need in healthcare today.

For supplemental information, visit AACN Essentials and download PDF (items 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Learn more about Nursing programs at Goodwin University.


Robin Young-Cournoyer was born in Revere, Massachusetts, and grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire. She and her husband, Tony, met in college and have raised three amazing young men. She launched Nurse Consultants LLC, an independent childcare consulting company in 1990. This has enabled her to work with children, childcare teachers, owners, and directors. She has had the opportunity to work in many specialty areas. She is passionate about our seniors and making sure they have access to the resources in the community. She is a board member on the council on aging, GSSSI, and the Holland Helpers. In 2019, she launched a second company, Advocates for Senior Independence. Her goal after graduating from UConn was to obtain employment as a college professor working with a diverse group of students. Robin feels it is such an honor to be part of the very welcoming Goodwin University community and all it has to offer to students.