Face of Innovation: Kalyn Essex

Bringing the human connection to innovation


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Face of InnoVAtion Essex

Air Force Veteran Kalyn Essex, MPH, the Innovation Specialist for VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Face of Innovation is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) focusing on VA employees who are working to change and save Veteran lives. This month meet Air Force Veteran Kalyn Essex, MPH, the Innovation Specialist for VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

It’s all about people for Kalyn Essex. Whether they be her fellow airmen, fellow Veterans, fellow employees, or her students, it’s the connection she makes with people that she has always enjoyed – that human connection that led her to VA and eventually to becoming an Innovation Specialist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (HCS).

Essex served for nearly 12 years in the Air Force. While she began as an Aerospace Medical Technician, her career eventually led to work as an active-duty instructor, teaching new basic training graduates to be Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Medical Technicians. After retiring, she came to VA, becoming part of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem’s (VHA IE’s) Innovators Network (iNET). As an Innovation Specialist, Essex discovered that she could apply the same skills she used teaching in the Air Force to help to truly impact Veteran lives. That work also led her to join forces with Dr. Tom Osborne at the National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation in VA Palo Alto HCS.

“I always found myself enjoying the human connection I intentionally fostered between myself and my airmen, team members, patients, and students,” said Essex. “I found a hidden strength in the mentoring, coaching, and training that I really loved. I think that’s what led me to VA and to being in these roles. The role of an Innovation Specialist is all about connecting with humans, truly listening and caring about their problems, and guiding them through strategic frameworks so they can innovate a solution.”

As VA employees backed by iNET training and resources, Innovation Specialists are the key to iNET’s unprecedented success in supporting, developing and syndicating innovative ideas and groundbreaking care throughout the VA health care system. They understand on-the-ground challenges and competencies, which aid frontline employees in developing and syndicating creative solutions. Through Essex’s work, VA Palo Alto HCS employees receive the support, knowledge, and guidance they need to create the future of Veteran care.

Through her role as an Innovation Specialist, Essex is supporting VA Palo Alto HCS employees on virtual reality initiatives and the development of a new smart cane for the blind. In addition, she is supporting the cultural transformation of frontline employees to become “intrapreneurs” and innovators. It is something that Essex believes everyone needs to know VA is doing right now.

“Most people don’t know that this is happening. Seriously happening,” she said. “The incredible staff of VA truly love serving Veterans and put forth a ton of effort to improve that service. This dedication is the root of all innovation within VA.”


Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem.

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