Young Minds Unlock the Door to Innovation

By Anna Lehner | February 10, 2017

The first stethoscope was invented 200 years ago as a tool that would amplify sound coming from a person’s chest. Crutches have assisted people to walk for about a century. Many surgical tools used today in our Sterile Procedure Trays are the same tools that physicians used when they were in medical school. And I’m ok with that. Clinicians are saving lives, performing surgical procedures that I could never wrap my head around, so who am I to tell a doctor or a nurse they should be using a different tool or a new method? As a former product manager I know the focus of day to day projects can blur the future of a product line. Along with providing constant clinical solutions and education to our customers, who has time to look at the future when we are busy selling thousands and thousands of stethoscopes a year and eight million procedures per year use Medline’s surgical gowns and drapes?

The answer? Students and entrepreneurs. My role as an innovation manager isn’t to invent. It’s to find the inventors and bring them to Medline. Fresh eyes look at our products from a new perspective. These young minds can focus on better designs and improvements that our teams wouldn’t typically consider due to cost constraints, shipping issues or lack of demand for something new. This generation is hungry to take charge. In a 2014 poll of college students, 66 percent said they have dreams of starting their own business or have already done so.¹

Recently, Medline has been engaging student groups from across the country to look at our product categories and bring us their ideas on the next generation of durable medical products, smart textiles and new ways to keep patients healthy. Students from Design for America recently presented their work on improving patient mobility to Medline executives.

Ellen Arigorat is a student at NYU, but is also working as a staff nurse. She offered her work experience and student mindset to her group’s project, but the opportunity also opened her eyes to what goes into development. “From a healthcare perspective I never really knew about the research aspect of it,” said Arigorat. “We only get the end product so we don’t know how a product is developed. So it’s interesting to get Medline to see how it is from the student standpoint.”

Students from North Carolina State shared their first semester work on enhancing a variety of textile products to provide visual indicators for caregivers and environmental services staff. Biomedical Engineers from Illinois Institute of Technology are only a few months away from presenting their senior capstone projects to Medline’s teams, in hopes of a patent, Medline taking their idea to market, getting a good grade or perhaps securing a permanent role on our team. In fact, one student from DFA will join Medline as an intern this summer as a result of the visit.

The ROI on these programs isn’t just about new products, and companies need to realize that. An Accenture study conducted in the U.S., the U.K. and France found that while 70 percent of executives placed innovation in their company’s top five priorities, they are were also not satisfied with the results. Companies with a definitive innovation strategy are 75 percent more likely to find their program does deliver a competitive strategy.²

It’s about collaborating, harnessing ideas from the next generation and filling the funnel of new products coming out of Medline.


1. Mind of Millennial,, Bentley University, November 11, 2014.

2. Innovation efforts calling short despite increased investment,, Accenture, Published May 13, 2013.

Categories: Expert Views, Patient Experience

Anna Lehner

Innovation Professional

Anna Lehner previously worked as the innovation manager at Medline where she worked to drive new and meaningful product development across all divisions as well as promoting a culture of innovation. Lehner previously managed Medline’s retail scrub line, ave™, and also worked in Medline’s ReadyCare division. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois.

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