CNRN credentials keep neuro nurses on the cutting edge of care

Nurse manager Kalcee Forman surprises Lisa Roberts with a corsage in honor of Neuroscience Nurses Week.

Nursing is a broad and varied career with many opportunities. Some nurses choose to practice their craft in a variety of fields, but many, like Lisa Roberts, RN, CNRN, find their calling in a certain specialty and dedicate their lives to it.

Roberts spent the early years of her nursing career working in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. She cared for patients who suffered from stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and she developed a love for the neurosciences.

Twelve years ago, Roberts joined the Barnes-Jewish Hospital neurology and neurosurgery team as a staff nurse. “I wanted to come work where I could learn something and be a part of something big,” she says.

Big things were certainly happening at Barnes-Jewish Hospital when Roberts came on board. In 2001, the hospital was first recognized as a Neuroscience Center of Excellence. In 2005, the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital Stroke Center was first certified as a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission.

“The environment was inspiring,” Roberts says. “Working here, with the Center of Excellence and Primary Stroke Center – it really made me want to learn more.”

Roberts decided to follow the lead of Calvin Thomas, MBA, RN, CNRN, stroke coordinator at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital Stroke Center. She wanted to boost her knowledge with a specialty nursing credential.

The Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse, or CNRN, credential is awarded by the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing (ABNN). According to the ABNN website, the credential recognizes the nurse’s “attainment and demonstration of a unique body of knowledge necessary for the practice of neuroscience nursing.” Nurses must complete the equivalent of two years of full-time neurology or neurosurgery nursing before they are eligible for the CNRN exam. Once certified, they must renew their credential every five years.

Thomas first achieved his CNRN in 2004 and immediately set out to encourage his coworkers to work towards it as well.

“Specialty certifications like CNRN make you more acutely aware of evidence-based medicine,” Thomas says. “They force you to stay cutting-edge, and at Barnes-Jewish, that’s exactly what we should be.”

In 2006, Roberts and several other nurses who worked with Thomas decided to study for CNRN certification together.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” says Roberts, who was recently promoted to lead charge nurse. “This is not an easy test, but the learning experience is wonderful.”

While advanced credentials are not required for employment or advancement, the achievement speaks volumes about those earn them. “The people who go after credentials like CNRN are some of our best and brightest,” says Kalcee Foreman, BSN, RN, clinical nurse manager for two neurology and neurosurgery divisions. “Their dedication to their specialty has a positive impact on our staff and our patients.”

“Caring for stroke patients can get complicated because every stroke is different,” Roberts says. “I knew the basics before, but because of what I had to learn for the certification, I have a deeper understanding of how certain strokes affect the body and the brain. It’s made me a better nurse for my patients and a better resource for my coworkers.”

Clinical Nurse Educator Rose Donnelly, BSN, RN, echoes the importance of acting as a resource for the neurology and neurosurgery team. “The people I work with know they can come to a CNRN for help,” Donnelly says. “There is so much to know about neurology and neurosurgery that you won’t learn in nursing school. Becoming a CNRN gives you the opportunity to deepen and broaden your knowledge of your specialty.”

The ABNN also offers a credential for nurses who specialize in stroke care: Certified Stroke Registered Nurse, or CSRN. Calvin Thomas hopes to become one of the first nurses at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to add “CSRN” to his badge. He is currently in a study program and plans to take the exam in September.

“I love learning,” Thomas says. “I believe that to be the best I can be, I have to push myself to know more.”

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Each week, we’re sharing the stories of patients whose lives were changed by stroke and the caregivers who are helping them on the road to recovery.

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Category: Neurology & Neurosurgery, Nursing

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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