Neuroscience nursing panel celebrates Kelleher Award
by maureen dezell, photographs by caitlin cunningham
Close to 100 alumni—including 22 members of the class of '66—turned out for the Connell School Reunion on June 3. The upbeat gathering kicked off with a warm tribute to Ann Riley Finck '66, winner of this year's Dean Rita P. Kelleher Award, continued with a panel discussion on neuroscience nursing, and wrapped up with a lively reception in Higgins Hall.
Boston College Board of Trustees Vice Chair Kathleen M. McGillycuddy, NC '71, presented Finck with the third annual Kelleher Award, given to a Connell School graduate who follows in the footsteps of the late dean, making a mark as an accomplished nursing leader, an ethically aware scientist, and a skilled and inquisitive clinician.
A veteran neuroscience ICU nurse who has worked for almost 44 years in the neurological intensive care unit at what is now NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center, Finck is a mother of five BC graduates, vice president of the Boston College Alumni Association, a founding member of the Council for Women, and on the Parents’ Leadership Council.
Boston College Magazine editor Ben Birnbaum moderated the panel discussion with Finck; Shaun Golden, M.S. '11, nursing director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital; Cathy St. Pierre, Ph.D. '95, associate chief for nursing research and a nurse practitioner specializing in traumatic brain injury care at the Bedford, Massachusetts, VA Hospital; and Dan Triggs, M.S. '11, a staff nurse in the Brigham's neurological intensive care unit, who spent a year at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany as a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve nurse corps.
Each of the panelists shared experiences and perspectives on caring for patients with traumatic brain injuries and other neurological disorders at a time of stunning advances in diagnosis and treatment and a growing number of patients in need of neuro nursing care.
"It's a joke in our unit that if you go on a two-week vacation, you have to get a retraining course before you can start back to work," Finck said, to a ripple of audience laughter. "The new equipment, the new technology, the way to monitor patients is changing almost monthly. I think people that are surviving now would never, ever have survived 40 years ago."
The number of patients surviving traumatic brain injury (TBI)—which is known as the "signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars"—presents formidable challenges to nurses, said St. Pierre. "Unfortunately, a lot of TBI patients show no physical outward signs of injury unless you know them well."
Birnbaum noted that incidence of Alzheimer's, other forms of dementia, and stroke are going up as people live longer and survive diseases they might once have died of at a younger age. "What does this mean for your profession?" he asked. "What are the important breakthroughs you would look toward that might be helpful in the resolution of what seems to be a kind of tidal wave of neurological disease that we'll be living with?"
"I think our next Nobel Prize winner will be someone that discovers some way, some biological markers, to identify and diagnose these diseases, particularly Alzheimer's," said Golden.
As Triggs sees it, "stroke education is really at the forefront" of neurological care and treatment. "You can’t do much about a stroke," he said, as his fellow panelists nodded in agreement. "Educating the population about the signs of stroke, [and] just getting the information out there on getting people to the hospital within three hours" will make an enormous difference in stroke survival and rehabilitation.
Nevertheless, the panelists agreed, advances and achievements of twenty-first-century neuroscience nursing will never replace hands-on nursing care. "Neuroscience nurses in critical care settings work with the sickest of hospital patients," said Golden. "The technology that's out there … is just amazing, but we still go back to your basics. Putting your hands on the body of the patient, doing an actual exam, and watching someone get better, get worse" is what determines the course—and the future—of nursing care.