spark of genius
Dr. Janine Jagger Fixes the Problem, Not the Blame
MacArthur Fellow Janine Jagger is the Becton Dickinson Professor of Medicine and Director of the International Health Care Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. She is also a highly honored inventor whose ideas and innovations have changed the healthcare profession.
In the mid-1980s at the University of Virginia, Jagger was looking for a unique research project in the field of injury prevention. She found it when colleagues approached her with a new and deadly problem. Medical journal Lancet had just covered the first reported AIDS-related death of a health care worker due to an accidental needle stick, and concerns about workplace safety were growing.
Jagger said that she responded as anyone with her training would to prevent infections caused by injuries. “If it’s a product-related injury, then redesign the product to make it less injurious,” she said. Armed with that mindset, she set out on a quest that would require innovation in multiple areas. She and her colleagues had to move the investigative focus from workers to their surroundings, taking in every circumstance in which a sharp device could cause an injury. To do this, they had to persuade hospitals to gather data about device assembly, use and disposal in ways that had never been considered before. Safer devices had to be designed, approved and successfully marketed. The resulting research led to the invention of the first safety hypodermic needle.
This practical approach had broad impact. Before Jagger and her team of colleagues considered needle redesign, the assumption had been that needle injuries were primarily caused by workplace behavior. However, emphasizing that health care workers are not prone to taking unnecessary risks, Jagger said she was determined to fight a mindset that blamed caregivers for their own injuries. “These are people we depend on to save our lives, and we should protect them,” said Jagger.
The task was daunting, but the innovations it fostered in both medical technology and culture are advancing heath care worker safety throughout the US, and the ultimate goal is to ensure their safety worldwide. Jagger and her colleagues eventually patented six medical devices that all reduce the risk of needle stick injuries.
Jagger did not start this project thinking of herself as an inventor. She saw something that needed to be fixed, and it took innovation to fix it. But anyone who’s heard about invention’s mother from Edison knows that that her story fits the model of American ingenuity perfectly. Jagger said she was just in the right time and place to do the job, but it takes an innovative person like Janine Jagger to solve them at that time and place.