The third week of every May (this year May 14-20) is dedicated to Neuroscience Nurses Week in recognition of and tribute to neuroscience nurses and the work they do.
Neuroscience nurses work with patients who have a range of health conditions or injuries that are related to the brain. Patients in the care of neuroscience nurses might have received a traumatic brain injury in an accident, may be recovering from a stroke, could be navigating brain cancer treatment, or may have a neurologically based condition such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease. The specialty treats a conditions that impact all ages of patients so they must be ready to care for issues as diverse as ALS or seizures to migraines.
The American Association of Neuroscience Nurses sponsors Neuroscience Nurses Week and is an excellent resource for nurses who work in the specialty or those who are considering this career path. Nurses in this specialty are drawn to the practice because it offers such variety of nursing challenges and opportunities. Because brain illness and injury isn’t relegated to one age group, nurses can treat across the lifespan or can focus on an age range they are particularly drawn to.
Nurses in brain-related specialties also have options for work locations. Their skills are needed in rehabilitation or long-term care centers and in physicians’ offices. Neuroscience nurses will also work in the operating room, trauma units, or the ICU.
The brain’s complexity is unsurpassed, and neuroscience nurses are fascinated by how the brain controls all the body systems. They are driven to provide the best care and find the best treatment plans for each patient. Nurses who work with these patients are highly detail oriented so they can notice the smallest changes in a patient’s condition or responses. They are also adaptable as the challenges for patients can change daily or even throughout the course of a single day. They will tolerate the frustration or fear from patients and also share the joys of their progress. The role is fast-paced and never the same.
Each patient will have a different experience with treatment and recovery and will have access to varied resources to help them heal. Nurses are there as advocates to help patients manage symptoms, which can be as overwhelming as learning how to do daily tasks or manage with reduced mobility or function. They will help families of patients navigate the complexities of home care so they have the tools to support their loved one.
Certification through the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing is an essential tool for nurses who want to remain current in the fast-changing field. Gaining this credential helps nurses gain the latest knowledge, and it also signifies to the community that they are an expert in this field of nursing. Nurses can choose to be a Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN®) or receive a Stroke Nursing Certification (SCRN® ). Some hospitals and workplaces offer courses to help nurses, who will already have the required work experience hours, prepare for the certification exams.
Whether you are a neuroscience nurse or thinking about moving into this specialty, the need for nurses in this field continues to grow and job prospects are good.
Nurses who find a good fit in this field are generally fascinated by brain science and all the different implications that brain health and brain injury have on a person’s daily life. Neuroscience nurses help patients who may have a brain disease, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or who may have brain injuries resulting from a car accident or a fall or from an aneurism or infection. Neuroscience nurses also work with patients who have had a stroke or have multiple sclerosis.
Neuroscience nurses work with patients to help them stabilize if they have had a brain injury and to manage the everyday impacts of brain injury and disease. They may work in recovery and rehabilitation to monitor progression and to encourage patients and families as they take the journey to recovery or, in some cases, to manage a progressive disease. They may also work in an inpatient or outpatient facility or in the OR. Frequently, nurses in this role develop long relationships with patients and their families. As people recover from or progress through the impacts and symptoms of brain injury or brain disease, these nurses are a sounding board, a resource, and a champion of their patients.
Because the human brain is incredibly complex and any brain injury can have a major impact on the way the body functions, a career in neuroscience nursing is challenging. Nurses in this specialty must remain current in all the latest research in brain science and in the rapidly advancing technology that helps patients with brain injury or diseases. While patient care is generally the primary focus in the career, nurses who are fascinated by brain science can also choose to lead research, may hold leadership and teaching roles in academia, and may advocate for the patients and nurses who are impacted by brain health.
The American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN) is the professional organization for nurses in this specialty and is an excellent resource for both novice and veteran neuroscience nurses. Nurses can connect with others in their field, learn about educational opportunities, find out about conferences, and have access to job openings. Because neuroscience nurses have a complex specialty, the network of nurses in the field can act as a nationwide resource for puzzling cases or to hear about groundbreaking research being done around the globe. Nurses might also reference the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses to see what’s happening in the field worldwide.
Neuroscience nurses know that brain health can change everything from a patient’s physical health to their psychological health and so they must be able to adapt to changing conditions rapidly and calmly. As they gain experience in the field they develop valuable knowledge and capabilities that positively impact the patient and the larger health team. While the challenges are constant, so are the rewards.
When Neuroscience Nurses Week arrives every May, nurses in this specialty champion the vast choices they have within this career path.
For Ebonye Green, MNSc, APRN and director-at-large for the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN), becoming a neuroscience nurse was hardly something she planned. “I have my bachelor’s in chemistry, and I was going to go to pharmacy school or med school,” she says. She actually ended up going to pharmacy school and was two years into the program when an off-chance comment by a patient she saw every month changed everything. “He said, ‘This isn’t for you. You should do something else.’”
Green took a chance. She shadowed people at a university hospital while still working with outpatient pharmacy patients. “One night, I was pulled into the neuro ICU,” she says. Other nurses said she was going to hate it because the patients can be unpredictable. The talk made her nervous to go in, but the result was transformative. “I loved it,” she says.
When fall semester came around, Greene didn’t go back to pharmacy school, instead enrolling in nursing school. “That was totally out of character for me to quit something,” she says. “My parents were surprised because I am a planner. I am a Type A, which actually fits in really well with neuroscience nursing.” But she had everything worked out from finding funding to moving credits around. “People thought I was crazy,” she says. And while she says she really didn’t know what to expect, she had a gut feeling that she was on a path that suited her. “It felt right,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I was going to work. I have never felt that way. I always learn something new every day. It’s eye-opening. It’s exciting.”
Green says making connections with other neuroscience nurses early in her career helped her gain her footing and gave her a sounding board. She talked to other nurses through AANN, and they gave her career-boosting tips. She was told how important it was to gain additional certification in her specialty or sub-specialty. They also let her know about neuroscience journals and about how conferences for neuroscience nurses were a great way to find other like-minded professionals.
Green understands why the nurses so long ago thought she might not like neuroscience nursing—it’s not a field that will appeal to everyone. “Things are happening with your patients and you can’t see it,” she says. There’s no cast to show a broken bone healing and no pacemaker to check on, she says. “It’s in the brain and you don’t see the moving parts,” she says. “You have to rely on your exam and what you know about the patient.”
But those very things are what keep Green motivated. “For me, it’s all about education,” she says. “It’s about wanting to know more to take better care of my patients.” It’s easier today to find the information she needs, but when Green first started, not many people were using the internet the way they do today. “You couldn’t Google something on a phone,” she says. “I was opening textbooks and showing my patients.”
Calling neuro recovery “a marathon, not a sprint,” Green says the education piece of recovery is vital. She works with patients, families, and caregivers who often just have to come to terms with a long, uncertain recovery. Finding out what can help patients calms everyone’s fears a bit, she says. Like pieces of a puzzle, as Green sorts out the reasons someone is under her care, she can help formulate the best path back to having the best life possible.
Nursing students who think neuroscience nursing is appealing should also realize the specialty, like a nursing career, is broad. “You can create your own avenue,” says Green. If you want to work with stroke patients, you could find yourself working with them from the time they hit the door in the emergency department or in rehab after they have had initial treatments. You could even find a place in the OR as a neuroscience nurse. “While you are on different rotations, decide what you want to do,” says Green.
Green particularly likes being able to follow her patients through their recovery. “We are in this together,” she says. “This is a very challenging and extremely rewarding field.”
Every year, National Neuroscience Nurses Week is celebrated in the third week of May. The week honors nurses who dedicate themselves to this field and to the patients and families impacted by everything from severe head trauma to stroke.
Neuroscience nurses focus on the brain and the injuries and diseases that impact this essential and highly complex organ. With the rapid-fire developments in the field and the distinctive ways each person’s brain responds to any kind of disruption, neuroscience nurses’ skills are always evolving.
Neuroscience nurses care for patients who are vulnerable and who sometimes have injuries or diseases that have an uncertain prognosis. They may care for patients who have newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis, advanced Parkinson’s, encephalitis, or have recently suffered a mild or severe stroke. They may treat those who have been in a serious car accident and suffered a head injury or someone who has a neurological injury from a fall. They might also plan out care and treatment for patients with epilepsy or recovering from meningitis.
While caring for the patient, they must help families cope with the uncertainty or the potentially long recovery, and they also must guide them in the care they will need to provide to increase the prognosis for each patient. The patients might need occupational, speech, or physical therapy to relearn how to do many activities of daily living, and nurses will work with those teams as well.
Because of the variety of needs for neuroscience nurses, the field has potential job openings in many settings including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and trauma units. An aging population also increases the demand for neuroscience nurses as various illnesses and conditions impact an aging brain.
Neuroscience nurses must have excellent critical thinking skills as each patient will respond differently to therapies and treatments. They also have many ways of helping and engaging both patients and families to improve outcomes.
Thank a neuroscience nurse in your life this week!
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