As a nurse at The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Blocker Burn Unit, Jason Sheaffer and his staff are always looking for new ways to help provide their patients with the best care.

Occasionally, that can mean treating a burn so severe that it requires a nurse to irrigate it for near seven hours, he said.
That traditionally has involved having a nurse stand by a patient’s bedside keeping a constant flow of water, he said.
But Sheaffer knew there had to be a better, more efficient way to do it.

That inspiration is what Sheaffer took to the medical branch’s MakerHealth Space — the first of its kind in the country — on a patient floor of John Sealy Hospital.

The space is only about 150-square feet, but officials hope in the next few months to move it to a larger space of about 850 square feet to accommodate more health professionals.

The medical branch was chosen for the first-ever “makerspace” in part because that creative, innovative culture was already present and because the health system was so open-minded to encouraging this kind of project, said Anna Young, co-founder of MakerNurse.

MakerNurse, an initiative of the Little Devices Lab at MIT is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which encourages bringing nurse making to the forefront of health care.

“There had already been some programs in place for nursing innovation,” Young said.

But the vision had to go beyond that, she said.

“It was important for us that it was a big enough vision that once we kick it off, we’re able to see how we’re going to expand this same kind of culture throughout the rest of the hospital,” Young said.

Medical staff can use the makerspace to prototype a new tool, to upgrade an existing hospital device, or to customize materials for individual patients, she said.

“Nurses are on the front line of patient care,” Young said. “We’re looking to answer the question, ‘What are nurses making at the bed side and at patient homes that is making patient care better, easier and more efficient — what are the new ideas nurses have?’”

Inside the makerspace is a large variety of supplies and tools including fasteners, textiles, electronics, sewing needles, 3D printers and laser cutters, said Nikolas Albarran, principal engineer at Pop Up Labs.

Wednesday, Sheaffer and Albarran worked together to make the sketch on a dry erase board in the space become a reality.

Because the makerspace is on a patient floor, nurses can go to the lab for a few minutes each day, just as they would go to pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, to work on their projects, Albarran said.

Which is exactly what Sheaffer did earlier this week, he said.

The prototype made of PVC pipe and smaller joints printed from a 3D printer included pieces that could be secured safely to a patient’s bedside with irrigation attached to it to hold it in place instead of having a nurse manually do so.
“It’s a simple idea that will save a lot of time,” Albarran said.

The makerspace is designed to be a place for nurses and other medical staff to bring their ideas to, test, evaluate and look for ways to improve their product — something that has already been going on at the medical branch for as long as some medical professionals can remember.

Some other ideas made by nurses has included cough pillows made out of hospital blankets wrapped in medical tape and tactile patient call buttons using tongue depressors and pieces of silk, Young said.

In Galveston, nurses have even come up with a handmade device that helps stop children from picking at their IV sites, Albarran said.

All it took was part of a plastic cup cut in half with foam tape around the edges to keep them from cutting themselves, he said.

“It’s little things that can really help them and make everything easier,” Albarran said.

But what makes the makerspace different from past practices is that instead of bringing their ideas to someone else for it to be made, the nurses are actually constructing the prototypes themselves, Young said.
“The MakerHealth space at UTMB will help bring nurse making to the forefront of health care inno

ation,” said David Marshall, chief Nursing and Patient Care Services officer at the UTMB Health System. “We know nurses have breakthrough ideas for improving health care. Providing them with the space, tools and materials to create these solutions, rather than outsourcing them to engineers and designers, just makes sense.”

While spearheaded by nurses, the makerspace will be open to all medical staff and health professions students.
“We’re excited to see nurses, clinicians, caregivers and patients collaborate to better patient care,” Young said.
Young is also looking forward to seeing more hospitals join the movement, she said.

MakerNurse has launched mobile makerspaces in several hospitals and nursing schools across the country, including Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital of Richmond, Virginia; Driscoll Children’s Hospital of Corpus Christi, Texas; Maimonides Medical Center in New York; The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; South Shore Hospital of South Weymouth, Massachusetts; Sierra Providence Health Network; and Texas Tech University Health System of El Paso.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity and for our future with UTMB,” Young said.

Contact reporter Shannon Daughtry at 409-683-5337 or