Nurses once again topped the list of America’s most trusted professions, according to Gallup, whose latest poll results were released this month. By Gallup’s count, it’s the 18th straight year nurses have earned that coveted title.

Now, technology firms are leveraging this “trust dividend” when developing new products and forging partnerships, said a trio of nurses who’ve parlayed their acute-care experience into positions at some of the best-known corporations.

“I wish it was as easy as buying a new technology solution and just implementing it,” said Kristi Henderson, clinical operations leader at Amazon. But in order to drive behavior change in clinical settings, “You have to build trust,” Henderson said. “If you’re going to get engagement, if you’re going to get adoption, you’ve got to have somebody that’s a trusted partner in that process.”

Henderson, a former ER nurse and NP who earlier in her career led teleheath and innovation efforts at two different health systems, was one of three nurses who’ve made the tech transition to appear on a panel at the Startup Health Festival, an event which took place on the sidelines of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco this week.

Half the global workforce is comprised of nurses, and 90% are women. That makes them the largest segment of the healthcare workforce (and one to which pharma marketers are increasingly paying attention). Sitting in an office and conjuring up ways to improve the system isn’t something one normally associates with the profession. 

Nurses, Henderson explained, are trained to think holistically about patients and thus are well-positioned as the health system moves from sick care to a preventative model. 

“Most people think of that nurse at the bedside doing direct patient care,” she added. “But they’re also CEOs. They’re also helping develop product. They’re helping build the business models that are bringing sustainable solutions to the healthcare industry.”

Indeed, companies would be hard-pressed to get any new technology implemented or adopted in a healthcare setting without the involvement of nurses. For that reason, Microsoft has also made a concerted effort to bring in individuals with the kind of experience that enables them to have conversations with clinicians, said Molly McCarthy, chief nursing officer for the software giant. That includes a newly hired chief nursing information officer.

“It’s so critical to have those conversations where, ‘I know, you’ve been here before, you’ve done that.’ Immediately you’re put on a different credibility level than someone else, quite frankly,” said McCarthy.

The most important area for Microsoft in healthcare, she said, involves “empowering the frontline clinicians — the nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants — as they do their job, and as tech becomes more and more in their face, to really put them back at the bedside.”

That has involved working with technologies such as ambient clinical intelligence — tools designed to relieve HCPs of administrative burden.

Nurses’ knack for establishing rapport extends to patients, as well. Lynda Moyer is a nurse who has had a number of tech jobs, including working for Facebook as a manager of the platform’s health-related communities, many of whose members have bypassed the traditional healthcare system. Reaching out to them and introducing herself as a nurse served to establish credibility, she said.

Moyer has advised companies on everything from operations and mapping out workflows to product development and management. Her background has enabled her to surface insights with data/analytics, as well as patient engagement and behavior change, particularly in regards to chronic care management.

“When I transitioned from my clinical role to a product development role,” said McCarthy, “I really sat in between the customer and our product engineering groups — software, hardware engineers — and was able to be that translator and really help them develop specifications that would truly be meet the needs of the end user.”

As the undisputed backbone of every health system, nurses have a deep understanding of clinical operations, patients and gaps in the system. If the Gallup findings are any indication, they’re also trusted by nearly all other stakeholders. Every day they’re entrusted with billions of dollars worth of pharmaceuticals, technology and that most precious commodity of all, the patient.

It’s no surprise, then, that 2020 has been dubbed “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” by the World Health Organization. The international campaign is designed to not only celebrate their work, but also as a call to action in the face of a rather large nursing shortfall.

According to WHO, the world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives (18 million HCPs overall, when you consider all healthcare workers) if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030, one of the group’s moonshot goals. 

Yet, traditionally speaking, amongst the health-tech literati, “We haven’t seen nurses and we haven’t seen women,” noted Shawna Butler, a nurse economist, who moderated the panel. That’s changing as tech companies tap what Butler called “the unmatched feedback loops that nurses have of patients and data.”

The panelists also had some advice for tech companies as they seek to change how, when and where care is delivered. 

“We’ve got some incredible technology,” said Henderson. “The adoption of all of this is growing rapidly, but we still have a broken health system. So we’ve got to partner together to really come up with solutions that the users will adopt.

“If we’re really listening to our customer, our patients, they’re going to tell us where they want [care],” she said. “And that’s how we’re going to get the engagement. If we create something in a board room that isn’t informed by our users, we’re not going to get the results that we want. We’ve got to put it out there, get their feedback, and iterate, iterate, iterate.”

To get that feedback, nurses need to be embedded in teams, Henderson urged, from the very beginning all the way through to product deployment. “Your product is going to be better as you’re getting stakeholder input.”

This article has been updated to clarify Moyer’s level of experience in the tech sector.