A patient recovering from a head injury in a neurological intensive care unit (ICU) might be surprised to learn that the nurses caring for him had little training in neuroscience beyond the typical four hours of lecture in nursing school. Some leading caregivers are trying to change that. Joanne V. Hickey, a neuroscience nurse scholar and clinical expert at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, and Ann Quinn Todd, nursing director of the institute’s Eddy Scurlock Stroke Center, joined forces to organize the institute’s inaugural symposium on neurological nursing. More than 150 practitioners attended.

Neurological nursing focuses on treating injuries and diseases of the brain and nervous system, such as stroke, aneurysms and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s. The field has existed for 60 years but “has long played second fiddle to cardiovascular nursing,” Todd says. “Heart has always been the biggest competition, but it’s just a pump!” Recent times have brought innovations such as improved magnetic resonance imaging technology and instruments like the MERCI corkscrew, which nurses can insert to extract blood clots from the brains of patients who suffer embolic strokes. These tools and more were featured in hands-on exhibits at the symposium, which also offered seminars on the electronic ICU, pituitary tumors and brain stem cells.

“If the interest is there — and so far it is,” Todd notes, the symposium will grow each year, introducing neurological nurses in Texas and across the country to the latest discoveries and techniques. Such local meetings could augment national efforts such as those of the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses.