The value of entrepreneurial nurses

It is important that nurses learn to be entrepreneurial, because they are the ones who discover important problem areas in their work and have the knowledge needed to solve them. But how can nurses become entrepreneurial?

By Tina Larsen

Gunn-Berit Neergård is a trained nurse and has a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. In her doctorate at Engage, she has been researching entrepreneurship education for nurses and how nurses can become entrepreneurial. She is now in the process of completing her doctoral dissertation.

Her findings show that nursing students and nurses find it more challenging to enter the “entrepreneurial world“. One reason is because of the special health care context nurses are a part of. Historically, it has been and still is dominated by women where the focus is on giving free care and welfare services. This is not typical for the entrepreneurial world, which is more male-dominated and where the focus is on creating profit. There are therefore two extremes where there is a clash of values, a conflict. Nurses therefore find it more difficult to become entrepreneurial. Neergård has tried to understand this context through her research and what it means for nurses and their opportunities to become entrepreneurial.

Barriers that nurses face

All entrepreneurs face challenges but nurses seem to also face other types of barriers that are related to the context in which they find themselves. This can be stigma, discrimination and the fact that nurses are not considered natural entrepreneurs. A nurse running a business is often met with skepticism because it is not part of the values of being a nurse. Neergård has interviewed entrepreneurial nurses regarding their entrepreneurial journey and barriers they have encountered. Several interviewees have experienced skepticism when they tried to contact actors such as Innovation Norway as a result of the entrepreneurial language and their ability to sell an idea. It is a specific type of knowledge that this group does not learn during their education, says Neergård.

“Either we have to start with the education and teach the students how to maneuver in the world of entrepreneurship, or we have to adapt the world of entrepreneurship to the diversity of non-business people, such as nurses, doctors and other people who want to create something but who do not have entrepreneurship knowledge.”

Gunn-Berit Neergård, PhD Candidate
Credit: Julie Solem/NTNU

Based on interviews with entrepreneurial nurses, Neergård has found that there are mainly three things that are important in overcoming barriers:

  • A sense of belonging, for example to a team, an entrepreneurial ecosystem, or to a school that supports them etc.
  • Self-affirmation, meaning that you have a positive attitude towards yourself, is confident that you are doing something important and something that is in line with your own values
  • External-affirmation, meaning that the surrounding community recognizes them and considers what they do important. This is particularly important as a result of the opposition and barriers entrepreneurial nurses may face

Entrepreneurship in nurse education

As of today, entrepreneurship in nurse education is very limited. There are few arenas where nursing students can learn about and gain experience with innovation and entrepreneurship. It can therefore be difficult for nurses to understand how innovation and entrepreneurship are relevant knowledge to carry with them in everyday life. Neergård sees the value and importance of entrepreneurship in nursing education. She has completed a research project where she participated in an entrepreneurship camp for nursing students. Here she observed the teaching and interviewed 17 students, both before and after the entrepreneurship camp. In addition, she interviewed 10 “stakeholders” (such as teachers, mentors and people who were from other organizations that attended), and reviewed relevant documents.

Her findings from this research project is that nursing students before attending the entrepreneurship camp were skeptical and not very interested as they did not see the need for them to learn about entrepreneurship and innovation. After only three days of teaching during the camp, there were several students who now saw the value and who envisioned having an entrepreneurial role in a future career. There was therefore a change of attitude among the students.

Neergård believes there are many opportunities to create new meeting places, networks, arenas and events that are adapted to nurses and / or nursing students. She highlights DRIV NTNU as a good initiative and wants there to be more offers like these adapted to nursing students.

Neergård’s publications

During her doctorate, she has tried to blog about this topic on Instagram to break down prejudices and post tips. Follow her on Instragram or Linkedin.