May is National Nurses Month

In June of 1991, former Neurosurgery Department Head Shelley Chou, MD, and his wife, Jolene (herself a nurse), endowed the Jolene and Shelley Chou Excellence in Neuroscience Nursing 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 nurses who:

  • Have superior skills in interpersonal relationships and communication
  • Demonstrate sensitivity, a caring attitude, and consideration of the ethical dimensions of patient care
  • Promote and contribute to evidence-based practice associated with the care of neuroscience patients and families.

Three winners this year

In 2022, the Neurosurgery Department decided to expand the award’s coverage to the three neuroscience units in the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. The 2023 winners of the award include Kunsang Dorjee, BSN, CNRN, SCRN, preceptor/staff nurse on the 6A Neuroscience Unit; Scott Jensen (pictured above with his team, holding the award), RN, CNOR, circulating/scrub nurse for Unit 1 on the Neurosurgery-Orthopedics team; and Hannah Weller, RN-BSN, patient care supervisor for the Surgical/Neuro-Intensive Care Unit.

Dr. Clark C. Chen and Kunsang Dorjee

According to Kunsang (pictured here with Neurosurgery Department Head Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD), the Chou Nursing Award is the “Oscar” for neuroscience nurses at the hospital. “It’s as good as it gets,” he said. “Winning it has made me feel more energized to do better. It tells me that what I’ve been trying to do as a nurse is being recognized.” Hannah agreed, noting, “It validates a lot of the work you do, both as a nurse and a leader.”

Taking a slightly different perspective about winning the award, Scott, who has been on the unit since 1996, noted, “You accept it for the team more than for yourself. It’s nice after putting in the hard work for so many years. It helps underscore my reason for staying here.”

Changing people’s lives

Maria Raines, Hannah Weller, Dr. Clark Chen, Dr. Ramu Tummala

Hannah (pictured here holding the award with Maria Raines, UMMC Chief Nursing Officer, Chen, and Neurosurgery Department Vice Chair of Professional Development Ramu Tummala, MD), earned her degree at St. John Fisher College (now University) in Rochester, NY, and came to the U of M following an assignment as a traveling nurse. “My very first job was on a trauma unit with an adjacent neurosurgical unit,” she said. “I worked closely with the neurosurgical patients.” Scott, who graduated from Century College on the GI Bill, believes that neuroscience nursing is a “unique niche,” and to be part of some of the procedures the department performs is his favorite thing in the world. “They really change people’s lives,” he said. “I was even more excited when we started doing laser ablations. Anything we can do to make our procedures less invasive is awesome.” In addition to his neurosurgical work, Scott is a Laser Safety Officer for the hospital.

Kunsang has been with the hospital for 16 years and as a nurse on the Neuroscience Unit for 6 years. He graduated from the Minnesota School of Business and finds the brain to be the most fascinating organ of the body. “I knew that neuroscience had a lot to do with medical conditions of the brain, however, I didn’t know that it also included ear, nose, and throat, and trauma patients,” he said.

Every day is different

There are many things that fascinate these nursing professionals about the patients they help treat. “In some instances, it’s young people with incurable brain tumors who are close to my age. It weighs on you,” said Hannah. “With the stroke population, you never know what you’re going to get. That’s also one of the benefits of working with these patients – every day is a different day, which attracts me and others to the neuro population.”

Kunsang likes the fact that he can help his patients throughout the day. “I see our stroke patients making progress while they’re with us,” he said. “They go from not being able to use their arm to regaining some function before they move on to rehab. You feel like you’re helping them win the battle against these challenging conditions.”

Inspirational impact

Achieving recognition like the Chou Award has had an impact on how these nurses do their work. “This recognition inspires people and motivates other staff members,” said Kunsang. “When I saw others getting it, it became inspirational for me.” For Hannah, it was a form of validation. “Our job is very difficult, especially on this unit,” she said. “Recognition is important given how hard the nurses work and how emotionally demanding our jobs are. The award validates that what you’re doing matters and people see you, recognizing your hard work.”

Scott was surprised and humbled by how his coworkers reacted to his winning the award and how many times he was congratulated afterward. “It feels good,” he said. “But knowing that you’re helping someone is the greatest gratification…I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. I’m very happy to be recognized for doing work that I consider to be a privilege.”

Learn more about Shelley Chou, MD, PhD.