In the last few months, educators from the University of North Carolina and Texas Tech University have contacted Johnson County Community College hoping to order something unusual: fake fingers.
The plastic SA Finger holds liquid so students can simulate blood draws. It’s the first product conceived, funded, developed and brought to market by Johnson County Community College.
“It’s a community college doing what’s expected of a research university,” said Dr. David Zamierowski, a retired plastic surgeon and medical adviser for the college’s Healthcare Simulation Center. “Taking an idea, patenting it, trying to sell it and then deciding to manufacture it itself.”
The plan is to make that a regular occurrence at JCCC.
Zamierowski, who is also a courtesy professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, holds more than 50 patents for wound care devices.
He teamed with JCCC nursing professor Kathy Carver to develop the SA Finger to fill a need for the simulation center. The center, established about a decade ago, is set up like a hospital wing, with manikins substituting for patients.
The SA Finger fits over a manikin finger or a human finger and nursing students can use it to practice glucose testing, which is vital for the growing number of diabetic patients.
“Blood glucose seemed to trip us up, and that’s a really common assessment,” Carver said.
Instructors can control the glucose content inside the SA Finger so they know immediately if their students are measuring correctly.
After Zamierowski and Carver conceptualized the finger they tried to sell the idea but, Carver said, “people weren’t really biting.”
So they made it themselves, with funding from the Johnson County Community College Foundation. Zamierowski said the foundation put up about $50,000 for patent applications, an engineering consultant, an initial manufacturing fee, a marketing consultant and a trademark.
Faculty and staff in various departments helped out, and developing the product became part of the curriculum for students.
“We could involve the students at every stage and make it a simulation for the marketing students, make it a simulation for the design students, make it a simulation for the graphic artists,” Zamierowski said.
The finished product launched in June, and Carver said they’ve since sold about 100 SA FingerStick Glucose Testing Simulation Kits at $95 a pop.
University of North Carolina was one of the first to place an order. Texas Tech was one of the most recent. Carver and Zamierowski have gotten orders from Australia and Canada, too, after Carver presented the FingerStick at an international nursing conference.
“We’ll see where things go with the product in the marketplace,” Carver said.
Royalties on the sales are split between the inventors, the department and the college. Net profits are going back to the JCCC Foundation for scholarships. The rest of the money flows into JC3 Innovations, a for-profit entity formed to house the SA Finger and future inventions that come out of the college.
Zamierowski said he and Carver have other ideas but are “playing it close to the vest” for now, rather than publicizing what they’re working on. He’s also hoping that other departments at Johnson County Community College are inspired to tap the JC3 Innovations investment capital for their own innovations.
“A good idea for a product that’s small but important,” Zamierowski said. “We hope this spreads through the whole college.”