Saluting our neuroscience nurses with a profile of their manager

For 20 years, Mary Speake, CNRN, has been working on the Neuroscience Unit (6A) at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. For the past seven months, she has been its nurse manager.

Mary Speake, CNRN

She believes that if there is something unique about 6A, it’s their focus on teamwork. “The nurses have been trained well to respond to high-risk patients; they’re very attuned to changes in patients’ conditions,” said Mary (pictured at left). “When a bed alarm goes off, there are three people who respond. It’s never ‘that’s not my patient.’” Whenever someone isn’t doing well, the nurses talk about it with one another. “There is always a group effort,” she said. “It’s just how we work.”

The 6A team also works together to lift each other up. “We’re partnering with our Medical Director, Dr. Andrew Grande, to increase the neuroscience education of the nurses,” explained Mary. “We hold monthly educational sessions about topics that the team chooses.” The first one was given by Dr. Uchenna Okafo about neuroanatomy. “The second, held May 5, was about conducting a neurological exam. It helped the nurses understand how any cognitive deficits correlate with what’s happening in the brain,” said Mary. Participants get Continuing Education Units for attending.

“We’re also trying to prepare the nurses for the different certification exams they qualify for – the SCRN [Stroke Certified Registered Nurse] and the CNRN [Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse],” Mary said. “We hold Q&A sessions with Dr. Grande and encourage them to sit for the exams.”

Neuroscience Nurses Collage

The Unit proudly announced that five team members (pictured above) recently earned their SCRNs — Abby Denee (middle) in May 2021, Megan Hernon (second from left), Amanda Peterson (far left), and Kunsang Dorjee (far right) in February 2021, and Taylor Zaic (second from right) at the end of November 2020. And two other team members are sitting for an upcoming SCRN exam. “It’s important to increase knowledge about the patients we’re caring for,” said Mary. “Just studying for these exams imparts a lot of information…it’s huge.”

Achieving milestones
Another way the Unit demonstrates its leadership is by achieving its milestones. “We’re leading the hospital in discharges by 11 a.m.,” said Mary. “It’s an important measure because it frees up beds for other patients and allows us to help more people.” The Unit also hasn’t had any falls with injury this year. “On our floor that is a pretty big feat because we work with stroke patients and patients with cognitive and physical impairments,” said Mary.

As she reflects on the impact her leadership has had on the Unit’s achievements, she noted, “I try to make it fun. I’ve been coming up with different, creative ways to motivate them to participate. For example, the person at the end of the month with the most discharges by 11 a.m. wins a prize. When we got to 12 discharges by 11 a.m. in a week, we had a Dilly Bar party.”

Leading by consensus
“I also like to lead by consensus,” she said. “I don’t like to make decisions and say, ‘this is what we’re doing.’ I get a group together to help make those decisions.”

With all the changes and other things thrown at the Unit this past year, Mary has tried to maintain a positive attitude and stay flexible if the nurses need some time off. “I want to be there for them and help create a safe environment,” she said.

Perhaps what makes her most proud about her team is how everyone kept coming to work with smiles on their faces during the COVID pandemic. “We went from wearing masks, to face shields, to no visitors,” she said. “It’s getting better now but for a long time all we saw was each other. We have become quite close as a result.”