Rebecca Koszalinski, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at UT, was recognized by Johnson & Johnson in their “Nurses Change Lives” ad campaign. Koszalinski was recognized for her work behind the app called Speak for Myself, which she developed for patients who have trouble communicating their needs because of their disability.
In 2008, Koszalinski set out to develop the Speak for Myself app when a patient asked her for help with communication between healthcare providers and people with disabilities. It has been her sole goal ever since.
As the fifth of six children, Koszalinski always loved science and knew she would pursue a degree in the medical field from a young age. As she grew older, she realized she wanted to be a nurse after getting to know a nurse and watching her interact with other people.
Koszalinski is certified in rehabilitation and medical-surgical nursing with an undergraduate degree at The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She worked in pathology for a while and also worked in rehab while pursuing her master's. While in graduate school, she realized she enjoyed the community side of a career in nursing.
Koszalinski went on to get her Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University, and a few years later in 2015, she joined UT’s College of Nursing faculty.
During the time she was getting her Ph.D., Koszalinski developed the Speak For Myself app when she saw a need for more apps in the medical field.
“At the time I started, there weren’t many people working in that area. Apps for healthcare was a new concept,” Koszalinski said. “It’s not a new concept anymore. First, I had to find out what should be on the menu from the literature that existed, and then we had to validate that menu. Then I did an engineering independent study so I could build up proof of concepts. I hired an engineer to help program that. Then we had to test that. In addition, I had to write the instrumentation for it, because at the time, (that) instrumentation didn’t exist either.”
Koszalinski worked with a team of people who came from communications, engineering and speech pathology. They all worked together to create the best app they could for the need of helping those with speech disabilities.
Dr. Lora Beebe, Koszalinski’s research mentor and professor at the College of Nursing, talked about the app’s success.
“This app provides a much needed avenue for communication-vulnerable persons to make their needs known and feel connected to their care team,” Beebe said. “Dr. Koszalinski’s colleagues and the CON are very proud of her groundbreaking work and anticipate that its use by the next generation of nurses will enhance patient-caregiver conversations, leading to care improvements and better symptom control for great numbers of communication vulnerable persons.”
This year, the app received recognition from Johnson & Johnson. When they approached her about the ad, Koszalinski didn't know how Johnson & Johnson had heard about her story.
She got a call from someone in the company, and they collaborated with her on their new commercial for the “Nurses Change Lives” campaign. While actors portrayed everyone featured in the commercial, including Koszalinski, she has been included in five of their projects and has been part of the conversation of how nurses are innovators. For Koszalinski, the entire process has been incredible.
“It is surreal! All nurses are fabulous and what Johnson & Johnson is saying is that we’re all innovators,” Koszalinski said. “If you think about how you can improve systems, we could change healthcare and make it better for our patients. We need to empower nurses to do that. It’s an incredibly exciting conversation to be a part of. I’m so honored to represent the college here with this campaign.”
Dr. Tami Wyatt, associate dean of research and co-director of the Health Innovation Technology & Simulation (HITS) Lab, was a part of helping Koszalinski with testing the app. She has seen the positive response of the College of Nursing from the commercial.
“The College of Nursing is all a buzz about this significant feature,” Wyatt said. “The Johnson & Johnson commercial aired last evening on network TV during prime time. It aired during The Voice — one of the most popular shows on TV. We couldn’t be more excited, and we are posting this exciting news all over social media. The Office of Research and Engagement will also showcase this exciting news.”
Koszalinski has plans to advance the app and has many more ideas to help patients in the future. She is interested in self-care for patients. Koszalinski encourages young nursing majors to spend time learning their craft because most innovators do.
“When you feel confident, start looking around to see what you can do to affect change,” Koszalinski said.