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.
May is a time to celebrate the work of neuroscience nurses across the country. The American Association of Neuroscience Nurses suggests several ways to highlight the work neuroscience nurses do with Neuroscience Nurses Week, but one of the best things is to find out what makes a neuroscience nurse love the job so much.
ShirleyAnsari, BSN, RN, CNRN, and a nurse in The Johns Hopkins Hospital Neuroscience Acute Care Unit, says her journey to becoming a neuroscience nurse was not planned, but has given her professional challenges and personal satisfaction for her entire career.
“I became a registered nurse (RN) in 1984 and finished my nursing training in Mumbai, India,” Ansari says. “As a new RN, I was assigned to the neuroscience unit because the unit was short-staffed at the time. At the time, I had a limited knowledge of how to take care of neurological and neurosurgical patients.”
As a new nurse, Ansari says neuroscience nursing was challenging simply because the patients in her care had complex needs and were all quite varied. The pace was fast and care situations were changing constantly.
“Nevertheless,” she says, “with the help of senior nurses and their expertise, I was able to learn a lot and found it very motivating to deal with patients who suffered from a wide variety of brain and nervous system disorders.”
Because neuroscience nurses work with patients who are often in acute situations, they have to be highly resourceful both technically and emotionally. “As a neuroscience nurse, one should have the capability to deal with critical situations by being empathetic towards the patient as well as being simultaneously alert and attentive to the details,” Ansari says.
Because of their patients’ care needs, neuroscience nurses have to walk a fine line between motivating patients to do the work they might need to do and understanding what limitations they have at that moment. “My approach always involves a high level of calm and patience as many of these patients are not able to function normally due to their impaired cognitive function,” says Ansari.
The complex conditions and the rapidly changing environment means neuroscience nurses have to be ready to constantly take in new information and new developments but remain focused and steady. They will use all their nursing skills and develop strong communications skills that will work effectively within a team in a high pressure environment.
When thinking about advice to offer nurses considering this branch of nursing, she says well-rounded capabilities are essential. “They should have a high level of understanding to grasp what is happening with their patients and should be able to assess quickly and effectively in order to administer the proper type of care,” she says. “They should be able to communicate and delegate efficiently in order to deal with emergent situations. Lastly, they should be willing to work in a high stress situation by maintaining proficiency and composure.”
For Ansari, a career in neuroscience nursing brings many benefits, especially when she can see the progress of patients in her care. “Being able to facilitate and witness a patient’s recovery from initial treatment and rehab to having a more fruitful quality of life with their families is extremely rewarding,” she says.
As with many areas of nursing, Ansari says the constant change keeps her job fresh every day. “To this day, [the diverse work] is one of primary aspects of neuroscience nursing that I truly enjoy and find completely gratifying,” Ansari says. “The ability to learn something new amidst changing and challenging situations keeps me engaged, interested, and motivated in my work every single day.”
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