Longwoods Blog

Nurse Innovator Award: Enabling Nursing Creativity and Innovation

Krista Kamstra-Cooper, RN, BScN, MN, CRN(C),
President, RNFO
Markham, ON


Since Florence Nightingale, nurses have been innovators – helping to determine how to use all available resources to assist others lead as healthy and good a life as possible. To support this tradition of innovation, the Registered Nurses’ Foundation of Ontario (RNFOO) presented the first Nurse Innovator Award(NIA) in November 2019 – an award, which recognizes innovation and creative capacity in nurses by providing funding, mentorship and recognition. The NIA was founded by RNFOO Honorary Life Members (HLM), a small group of nurse leaders that wanted to encourage and support nurses who wanted to create the changes they envisioned. In this inaugural year, two nurses were selected: Christianna Facey-Crowther RN, a staff nurse at Sinai Health System, who will be producing insightful podcasts called At the Bedside – which describe the experience of nurses – and Christine Murphy RN, PhD, an advanced practice nurse at The Ottawa Hospital who is leading a nurse-applied ultrasound wound debridement clinic. A total funding of $30,000 was made available for the two awards.

Christianna Facey-Crowther RN
Christine Murphy RN, PhD

Launching the NIA           

So how did we get here? In 2017, two HLMs, Gail Donner and Mary Wheeler, made a presentation at an RNFOO Board of Directors (BOD) meeting.  They wanted to encourage more innovation by Ontario nurses who are at the forefront of the care process and who can often see where opportunities to innovate are available. In the context of this award, an innovative approach is an idea that has not been tried before and one that will enhance practice, education and/or the patient experience. 

Donner and Wheeler’s vision was to design and build a mechanism whereby 100+ Nurses Who Care would enable, encourage, support and celebrate nursing innovation. They believed that nurse innovators would play a key role in driving the nursing profession and healthcare forward, now and into the future, by turning their ideas into action.  With the approval of the BOD, Donner and Wheeler reached out to the other HLMs to garner support and to challenge them to “find 100 nurses who would donate $2500 over five years.” The HLMs were the first out of the gate, pledging $2500 each.

Next came the launch of the NIA Development Committee which had its first meeting in June 2018. Co-Chaired by Wheeler and Marianne Cochrane (a member of the RNFOO BOD) the committee formed four clusters – Fundraising, Application and Selection, Award Reception, and Marketing/ Communications. A fundraising campaign, under the leadership of Donner, was launched in November 2018.  HLMs who had made a pledge called potential donors personally to tell them about the NIA. The response was overwhelming. To date, 114 nurses (the founding donors) have been recruited and have pledged. In addition, under our “Friends and Supporters” banner we currently have pledgesfrom a major Canadian financial institution, corporate donations from Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and Registered Practical Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RPNAO), a family foundation and apersonal gift. In total, funding to date is just under $400,000.

    Once the funds were secure, Bev Simpson and Sue Williams (HLMs) led an innovative two-phase application and selection process and engaged founding donors to help select the 2019 winners. There were fourteen applicants – six were short-listed and were asked to present a short video “pitch” and a more detailed budget. 

Building a Strong Community of Nurse Innovators

Recognition of our founding donors, friends and supporters and stewardship of their donations has been paramount. All names scroll on the homepage of RNFOO, all were invited to the inaugural NIA reception and encouraged to bring a guest – a mentor, a mentee and a colleague with an interest in nursing innovation. In addition, donors are kept up to date with the fundraising and the award process through a quarterly newsletter.

Working with our fellow members on this project has confirmed our belief that when like-minded nurses come together with a clear purpose and volunteer their time, good things can happen. When nurse leaders think big, aim high and work hard, amazing things can be achieved. We realize yet again, that there is great satisfaction in helping nurses be the best they can be and in turn, helping patients/clients live the best, healthiest lives possible.

As with most initiatives, we started with no template. We had to build as we moved forward by being innovative, creative and fearless in pursuit of a great idea. We started with a clear purpose, developed a common vision, and translated personal values into team values. We moved forward methodically, self-organizing as we forged ahead, working separately in four clusters and pulling it all together regularly in the NIA Development Committee monthly meetings.


Going forward, we intend to refine our processes, particularly i) fundraising (recruiting additional founding donors, friends and supporters); ii) the application and selection process (improving tools and settling on timing within a phased process for 2020); and iii) ensuring there is sustainable infrastructure to take us effectively into the future.

Our longer term goal is to continue to create, support and develop a strong community of nurse innovators, sharing creative ideas and ensuring they are able to access funds and mentorship, and are equipped to speak and write about their accomplishments. We feel we have made great strides in accomplishing our goals and will continue to nurture them. We are keen to share our learnings and experiences with others.

Contact Information and Details about NIA 2020

If you would like more information or would like to join us as a founding donor or make a donation or act as a friend or supporter, please contact Krista Kamstra-Cooper at RNFOO by email at info@rnfoo.org or by phone at 905 752-0700 or 1 855 415-2270.

For 2020, RNFOO has allocated up to $50,000 for NIA. The application process will open on April 1.  Details are available here: https://nia.rnfoo.org/. Winners will be announced and celebrated at a reception in November.


We wish to thank Mary Wheeler, Bev Simpson and Gail Donner for their contribution in the writing of this article.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 30th, 2020 at 4:06 pm and is filed under Longwoods Online.