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Neuroscience Nurses Week

Neuroscience Nurses Week

Topic: Nursing

Barrow Recognizes its Neuroscience Nurses’ Commitment to Caring for Patients

Every May is National Nurses Month in the United States. As part of this observance, the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN) designates the third week of May as Neuroscience Nurses Week, a time to pay special tribute to nurses who care for patients living with neurological conditions. 

Neurological disorders represent a significant burden on global health, affecting more than 1 billion people worldwide. The expertise of neuroscience nurses is invaluable in navigating the nuances of these complex conditions, from acute management in the hospital setting to long-term rehabilitation and community support.

One of the defining characteristics of neuroscience nursing is its interdisciplinary nature. Nurses collaborate closely with neurologists, neurosurgeons, physiatrists, social workers, and other health care professionals to deliver compassionate care that addresses patients’ diverse needs. This collaborative approach fosters innovation, promotes shared decision-making, and ensures continuity of care across different health care settings.

Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, is recognized as a top center for neurological care and research. It is also one of the largest employers of neuroscience nurses in the world, with 513 professionals comprising its Department of Neuroscience Nursing. Barrow is proud to honor its nurses with this special recognition and celebrate the role they play in providing comprehensive, leading-edge care to patients every day.

What Do Neuroscience Nurses Do?

Nurses who have chosen to specialize in this field care for patients who have a wide range of conditions affecting the brain and spine—everything from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease to traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and epilepsy. In addition to providing direct bedside care, they may work alongside neurosurgeons in the operating room, monitor patients in the neuro-intensive care unit (neuro-ICU), or help provide rehabilitation services to patients who have lost physical or cognitive function. These health care professionals serve as patient advocates, educators, and care coordinators who address their patients’ physical, psychological, and social needs.

Neuroscience nurses also play a pivotal role in advancing scientific knowledge and improving patient outcomes. They conduct research studies and quality-improvement initiatives, contributing valuable insights into the efficacy of treatments, interventions, and care-delivery models. By bridging the gap between research and practice, neuroscience nurses help translate scientific discoveries into meaningful improvements in patient care.

Helping Patients with Neurological Conditions

Barrow neuroscience nurses will tell you that no two days are alike. Let’s take a quick sneak peek into “A Day in the Life” of Barrow neuro-ICU nurse Amy Coppage, RN, a certified neuroscience and stroke registered nurse who has worked at Barrow for more than 22 years. She currently works with patients who are spending time in the ICU after a neurosurgical procedure.

7 a.m.: The shift begins. It’s time to huddle up with the night nurse to assess the patients and ensure a smooth transition of care. Then, it’s off to introduce herself to the patients and handle any immediate needs.

8 a.m. until lunch: Patient care. This includes a variety of assignments: periodically taking vital signs; working closely with the unit pharmacist to expedite medication orders for postoperative pain control; assessing new patients who come into the neuro-ICU; drawing blood for lab tests; staying in close contact with the lab for timely test results; and updating patient charts on the computer.

Lunch or a snack. Coppage says that on most days, she will head to the Starbucks in the hospital lobby for a treat.

After lunch: More patient care. Coppage continues bedside care for her patients. During visiting hours, she may meet members of a patient’s family and chat for a while. “I always enjoy meeting patients and families and hearing their stories,” she says. As the shift winds down, she tidies up her workspace for the oncoming RN.

7-7:30 p.m.: End of shift.

Coppage says she can’t imagine having any other career. “I love where I am. The neuro-ICU is a tough place to be, but I have a strong team that stands right beside me through the good and bad times, the laughter and the tears. I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

Fellow neuro-ICU nurse Kimberly Reedy, RN, agrees. “I absolutely love my job, my patients, my coworkers, and the entire Barrow team,” she says. “I thrive in this environment, caring for the patients and being a part of their journeys through some of their toughest moments and greatest triumphs. I am 10 years into my career as a nurse, and I am excited for many, many more.”

Barrow Nurses: Beyond the Bedside

To continue enhancing the field, the Department of Neuroscience Nursing also contributes to patient care beyond the bedside. Let’s meet two of these dedicated professionals.

Virginia Prendergast, PhD, NP-C, FAAN, Director of Advanced Practice Nursing: At five years old, Dr. Prendergast already knew she would be a nurse when she grew up. And that’s exactly what happened. After nursing school, she returned to Phoenix to work as a bedside ICU nurse at Barrow Neurological Institute. She worked her way up to head nurse, nurse educator, and nurse practitioner, serving today as director of advanced practice nursing at Barrow Neurological Institute. In this position, Dr. Prendergast ensures that nurses meet the continuing education requirements needed for license renewal. She also helps her staff achieve and maintain special certifications. Barrow has 125 certified neuroscience registered nurses (CNRNs), including Prendergast herself. She says of her work at Barrow,

“I’m surrounded by such good, decent, intelligent, caring, dedicated people. All of them. This is the best place in the world.”

Her philosophy, borrowed from the poet Rumi, is: “Leadership is about being a lamp, a ladder, or a lifeboat. You can be a lamp, an educator, and light the way for the next generation of people around you. You can be a ladder so people can use you to go further, or a lifeboat—sometimes people are adrift and need your help.”

Tiffany Sheehan, PhD, Stroke Program Coordinator: Dr. Sheehan leads the care of stroke patients at Barrow Neurological Institute, implementing evidence-based standards and educational programs to improve outcomes. As a nurse-scientist, her work involves gathering data on patient care and identifying areas for improvement. She also reviews relevant literature and quality-improvement standards set by organizations such as The Joint Commission. In fact, she has helped the Petznick Stroke Center at Barrow adopt the standards required for accreditation as a Joint Commission-certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, the highest possible designation in the stroke field. Her philosophy: “If healthcare were a brick wall, nurses would be the mortar holding everything together.”

The Importance of Supporting Neuroscience Nurses

One of the reasons neuroscience nursing is so highly rewarding is that it is also highly complex. Helping patients manage pain, mobility limitations, and cognitive impairment can be particularly challenging, especially when dealing with disorders in which patients require long-term care and improvements are incremental.

Dr. Prendergast wanted to ensure that Barrow provided ways to help nurses take care of themselves, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic was placing unprecedented levels of stress on health care professionals across the country. So, she came up with the idea to establish Active and Quiet Resilience Rooms, special places nurses can go when they need a break or a reprieve from a difficult situation. During the pandemic, the Women’s Board of Barrow Neurological Foundation granted the seed funding that allowed these Resilience Rooms to be built.

This approach proved effective in addressing nurses’ mental health and stress levels. In an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, Dr. Prendergast and her co-authors reported an almost 50 percent reduction in moderate burnout and a decrease in emotional distress in study participants who had access to a Resilience Room on the job.

The Barrow Women’s Board Neuroscience Nursing Fund also supports nurses by funding projects that improve nursing education, training, and innovation for world-class patient care. Funding has been provided for special education courses, nursing Grand Rounds, and local, national, and international symposium attendance. The fund has supported proof-of-concept projects such as iPads for individual patient education. Barrow patients, family members, and hospital staff depend on the proficiency and compassion of its neuroscience nurses. The Barrow Women’s Board is pleased to have this special fund specifically for the advancement of Barrow neuroscience nurses.

Donate Today!

The neuroscience nurses at Barrow pride themselves on treating each patient with dignity and respect. While advances in surgical techniques, pharmacology, and imaging help clinicians improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders, there is no substitute for compassionate nursing care delivered with a human touch. Support neuroscience nursing at Barrow by donating today!


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