The Neurosurgery Department congratulates Kelly Mehlhorn, CNRN, 2019 winner of the prestigious Jolene and Shelley Chou Excellence in Neuroscience Nursing Award. She is a five-year veteran of the Neuroscience Ward (floor 6A) at the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC) in Minneapolis. Nominated by her colleagues, Mehlhorn was “dazed” when she heard she had won the award during this year’s National Nurse’s Week, May 6-12.

“It was so nice to be recognized…I didn’t expect it at all,” she said. “It’s given me a little extra oomph to do the best job I can for my patients and be there for the rest of the staff. It makes me feel that I’m doing the right things.”

As part of her role on 6A, Mehlhorn often serves as a charge nurse and oversees the floor. One of her award nominators noted that, “She performs charge nurse duties efficiently and effectively by growing relationships with colleagues and residents. She communicates with confidence and clarity so that the content of the message is understood.”

Knowledgeable teacher
In addition to her management responsibilities, Mehlhorn is an educator. “Kelly is an excellent preceptor to our new staff, showing patience and kindness while ensuring these new nurses will have the necessary skills and competence to perform at the level needed on our unit,” wrote another nominator. “In addition, she is a knowledgeable teacher for our patients and their families, making sure they display the skills needed to care for themselves after discharge.”

When Mehlhorn joined the team on 6A, her nursing world expanded considerably. “We treat a wide range of conditions, including complex stroke, complex ear, nose and throat cases, and head, neck, and back trauma,” she explained. “With five years under my belt, I feel knowledgeable about this patient population, but to take it a step further, I completed my CNRN [Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse] certification. That covered everything related to neuroscience. Even so, I continually prepare myself for the interesting, complex patients we see.”

Her dedication to education has been noticed. “Kelly's commitment to neuroscience is evidenced by her pursuit of education to better understand and care for this patient population,” noted a nominator. “Her colleagues respect her knowledge and seek her out for guidance and assistance for care concerns.”

Guidance is often needed with complex neuroscience cases. “There are many things to consider when you’re caring for these patients,” said Mehlhorn. “They may have neurological deficits that make you approach your care in a different way.”

"Everyday victories"
With everything she does when she’s at work, Mehlhorn gets the most reward from the “everyday victories with my patients…feeling like I’m making a difference in the little things – getting their pain medication on time, giving a bed bath when they haven’t had one. These things matter.”

A nominator agreed, writing, “Kelly treats her patients with dignity and takes the necessary time to understand their questions and needs. This is a critical skill that impacts patient satisfaction on so many levels.”

Feeling heard
One of the reasons that Mehlhorn enjoys working at Minnesota Health (M Health) is the ability it gives her to have an impact. “As nurses, it’s hard to feel heard, but when I bring a concern to my manager, she escalates what she hears and gets things done,” she said. “M Health does a really good job of listening to front-line staff and understanding what’s going on. I’ve seen a lot of improvements since I’ve been here. It’s a great place to work.”

A nominator noticed that Mehlhorn isn’t afraid to speak up. “When she feels there is a process that needs to be improved, she engages assistance to look into options to fix it,” they wrote.

Mehlhorn realizes that nursing is a team sport. “I couldn’t be the nurse I am without my coworkers,” she said. “I work with an excellent group of people and really couldn’t do my job without any of them. They’re amazing.”

Information about the award
In June of 1991, Shelley Chou, MD, and his wife, Jolene (herself a nurse), endowed the Jolene and Shelley Chou Excellence in Neuroscience Nursing Award. Anyone can nominate neuroscience nurses from the University of Minnesota Medical Center, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, and the U’s Clinics and Surgery Center for the award.

The award honors expertise in the field of neuroscience nursing, reflecting how a nurse assesses, plans for, provides, and evaluates nursing care for neuroscience patients and their families. The award also recognizes a nurse who:

  • Has superior skills in interpersonal relationships and communication
  • Demonstrates sensitivity, a caring attitude, and consideration of the ethical dimensions of patient care
  • Promotes and contributes to evidence-based practice associated with the care of neuroscience patients and families.

The recipient receives a monetary gift and their name is added to the award plaque.