The brain and nervous system are marvelously complex and delicate; when something goes awry, it can be very serious. Neurology nursing is a specialty field dedicated to diseases and disorders of the human nervous system. More correctly called neuroscience nursing, this field requires extensive and detailed knowledge of human anatomy, neurological symptoms and functions, and the ability to distinguish subtle changes that can indicate a problem or signal improvement.
Begin at the Beginning
A neuroscience nurse begins her career by becoming a registered nurse. She might choose a diploma program, an associate or bachelor’s degree. After graduation, she must pass the national licensing exam, or NCLEX-RN. A license is required in all states. A new graduate RN might begin work in a general medical-surgical unit, a clinic or a physician’s office. In each case, her duties could differ slightly. Nurses who work in a hospital, for example, are more likely to be responsible for sophisticated equipment and to administer more medications on a daily basis than a nurse in a clinic or doctor’s office. Although a new graduate might start her career on a neuroscience unit, she would need experience before working in neurosurgical intensive care unit or neuroscience rehabilitation unit.
The Vital Signs of Neuroscience
Patient care begins with a thorough assessment that includes the physical assessment of the patient and a review of his medical history. The neuroscience nurse must be able to evaluate a patient’s symptoms and put them in the context of his disease or injury. A stroke patient with bleeding on the left side of the brain, for example, should display different symptoms than a patient without a brain injury. Many neurological symptoms are subtle; they can change gradually or very suddenly, indicating an emergency situation. The neuroscience nurse must be alert to these subtle changes and carefully describe them in the chart so other members of the care team also can recognize changes.
Like all nurses, the neuroscience nurse performs basic care tasks. She might help a patient bathe, administer medications or change dressings. In addition, she uses various devices to measure a patient’s status, such as pressure manometers that indicate pressure inside the brain, heart monitors and blood pressure monitors. She must be particularly cognizant of the effect medications might have on a patient’s brain, as neurological injury can make a patient more or less susceptible to certain medications, especially nervous system depressants. She might care for a patient with a spinal cord injury, a brain tumor or a neurological disease such as Huntington's chorea or myasthenia gravis, and must know how to adapt her care in each case to prevent complications.
Certification, Advancement and Outlook
Experienced neuroscience nurses have the option to become certified in general neuroscience nursing or stroke management, according to AllNurses.com. Although certification is not required for practice, it enhances knowledge and might increase employment opportunities or chances for advancement. Some organizations prefer or require certification, especially in the experienced nurse. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports demand for RNs such as neuroscience nurses remains high, with a projected growth rate of 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, higher than the 11 percent average for all occupations. Neuroscience nurses earn slightly more than the 2012 median salary for registered nurses of $65,470 reported by the BLS. Indeed.com notes the average annual salary for a neuroscience nurse in 2014 was $67,000.