“The brain controls everything,” says longtime neuroscience nurse Patricia Lane, MBA, BSN, SCRN, FAAN. “Neuroscience is the top of the top.”
Lane, president elect of the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses and past second vice president of the National Black Nurses Association, says she didn’t plan on a career in neuroscience nursing. She followed her love of science into the field of biology and into the lab, but the long days behind a microscope didn’t meet her career expectations.
“I did the lab thing for eight months and then went to nursing right away,” she says. Her background still fuels her passion for everything she does in her nursing work. “In nursing I am using art and science. I get intrigued by looking at COVID and the dynamics of that piece. Using my science and nursing backgrounds, I see how it all works.”
After nursing school, Lane’s first job was in a neuro NICU, she says, an option that really isn’t open to new nurses today and was a rarity when she began. “It was unheard of for a new grad to go into ICU,” she says. “They put us in with the residents and fellows so we would have knowledge of the brain. Since then, I have always been a neuro girl.”
One of those early experiences really highlighted the resiliency of the brain and completely hooked Lane on working with neuro patients. As she was working at a clinical in the operating room, Lane says she was so fascinated by the brain surgery going on that she asked to stay for the whole procedure, long past the required hours for the day. “I had the patient the next day,” she recalls, and it was incredible for her to see how people recover and how the brain adapts.
As patients recover, Lane knows the empathy and precise care they need. “It’s an art, science, and a craft,” she says of the complex neuroscience nursing it takes to guide neuro patients through their recovery. “They need to take it one day at a time. It’s a journey and it takes time.” It also takes a village and neuro nurses are looking for ways to help families through such a complex process as well.
Lane says she can’t emphasize enough the importance of joining a professional organization, especially for anyone interested in neuroscience nursing. As a neuroscience nurse, she says, there is so much new science emerging around the brain, that nurses need resources to stay current. “I believe neuro is the only service line that touches every other service line,” she says. So whether a nurse is looking at a a more specific specialty such as stroke, Parkinson’s, or migraine, as Lane does, there are all other areas of the body to consider. “I can text someone [from a professional network] and ask, ‘What are you doing on the West Coast for this?’”
With so many professional organizations devoted to nurses, Lane says they also give minority nurses an essential professional relationships. “Diversity is so important in nursing,” she says. “We need to understand different perspectives and experiences.” In some areas, there may be a dozen languages that need translation on any given day, and families who need to speak with someone who can help them. If there are only nurses who speak English, a big piece of care is missing. Professional organizations help build those connections. “You have resources around you and it’s very collaborative,” Lane says. “Neuro is small and you can see a professional network as a helping hand.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is something neuro nurses are seeing as the tip of the iceberg right now. Next year will be interesting for neuro, she says, as the longer term impacts of COVID on the brain may begin to emerge. But the foundational science behind neuroscience care will still apply. “We can figure out how to help if you are in a brain fog,” she says. “There’s rehab or cognitive brush ups or drills. People need to be mindful, pause, and not multitask. It uses so much more energy to do that—and that intrigues me.”
Lane has long focused on stroke care, but she says she’s becoming more interested in epilepsy. “There are so many specialties within the neuro specialty,” she says. “I want to always learn something different. It helps to keep your own brain engaged and to learn something new. I am learning more about epilepsy and the more we can know and share, the better.”
As neuroscience nurses advance in their careers, they are also excellent advocates and mentors for younger nurses . “I am helping new nurses in the field and helping the community understand neuroscience,” she says. “We need to keep talking about it. The sky is the limit. This is truly a calling for me.”