What is a Neurology Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by a Nurse)

Written By: Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH

A neurology nurse is a nurse who assists in the treatment of neurological disorders. More than 6,000 diseases fall into this category, including stroke, common low back pain, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries. A report entitled “The Burden of Neurological Disease in the United States,” first published in 2017 in “Annals of Neurology,” estimates that as many as 100 million Americans are impacted in some way by neurological diseases.

What is a neurology nurse practitioner? A neurology nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who is qualified to assess, diagnose, and help manage neurological disorders. Neurosurgical nurse practitioners, on the other hand, specialize in the pre-operative and post-operative care of patients who are undergoing neurosurgical procedures. To find out more about the benefits of being a neurology nurse practitioner as well as how to become one yourself, keep reading.

Where Do Neurology Nurse Practitioners Work?

Neurology NPs can find employment in private neurology practices. More frequently, though, they work in institutional settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Within the greater hospital environment, you’ll find neurology nurse practitioners in stroke units, ICUs, and the neurological wings of trauma centers.


What Does a Neurology Nurse Practitioner Do?

A neurology nurse practitioner’s duties depend upon state laws and community needs as well as upon the professional milieu in which he or she works. Neurology nurse practitioners who work in neurologists’ offices may see new and returning patients who present with symptoms that include headaches, muscle weakness, poor coordination, paralysis, seizures, or altered levels of consciousness. Their advanced practice licensure gives them the authority to order diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. They may perform medical services such as IV infusions or Botox injections when Botox is administered for headaches.

Neurology NPs who work in institutional settings like hospitals and rehabilitation centers will do rounds, review neuroimaging and laboratory results, perform specialized inpatient procedures such as lumbar punctures and participate in whatever other evaluation and management services are deemed necessary by the physicians with whom he or she works.

Neurosurgical nurse practitioners help diagnose, manage, and prescribe medications for patients who are undergoing brain or spinal surgery, or surgery meant to address neurological traumas. In some institutions, neurosurgical NPs may assist neurosurgeons with surgical procedures in the operating theater.

Typical Working Hours

Neurology NPs who work in private neurology practices can expect to work eight hours a day, five days a week. This may include weekends and evening hours if the practice is open during those times. They can also expect to be on call for emergencies a set number of times each month. Rehabilitation facilities typically keep the same hours as private practices.

Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so neurology nurse practitioners who work in hospitals can expect to be assigned to day shifts (7 a.m. – 3 p.m.), swing shifts (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.), or night shifts (11 p.m. – 7 a.m.) so that they are available for patients’ needs. Neurosurgical NPs, on the other hand, will only be assigned to work during times when neurosurgeries are scheduled.

What is the Difference Between a Neurology Nurse & a Neurology Nurse Practitioner?

Neurology nurses are RNs. After completing a diploma, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, these nurses go on to specialize in working with neurological patients. In most instances, neurology nurses will work in a hospital setting either in a neurological services unit or in a neuro-intensive care unit.

Neurology NPs are advanced practice RNs who have completed a graduate degree in nursing. At present, no Master of Science in Nursing programs exist that are specifically designed to prepare NPs for a career in neurology. If you want to become a neurology nurse practitioner, either you must enroll in a one-year post-graduate neurology residency program, or you must be trained on the job.

After they have logged 2,080 hours in neurologic-related nursing, both RNs and NPs are eligible to sit for the Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN) exam that’s administered by the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing (ABNN). This certification must be renewed every five years.

RNs and NPs can also sit for the ABNN’s SCRN (Stroke Certified Registered Nurse) exam, providing they have at least 2,080 hours of direct or indirect stroke care experience within the last three years.

Why Become a Neurology Nurse Practitioner?

Advanced practice nursing with an emphasis in neurology is a challenging career path that demands patience, empathy, and organizational skills as well as an enormous store of information. In order to excel in it, you need to be someone who can maintain proficiency and composure even while dealing with high-stress situations. Watching the progress a patient makes as he or she recovers can be deeply rewarding.

As of yet, there are relatively few neurology NPs in the U.S. Only 6,000 nurses have been certified through the ABNN’s SCRN exam. Yet there is a huge population of patients with neurological issues who could potentially benefit from neurology NP’s services. This means the demand for members of this specialty is high and likely to grow. As a neurology nurse practitioner, you will enjoy job security and a high salary with first-rate benefits. It is likely you will have your choice of employment situations, too, as private practices and medical facilities will compete for your services.

Following is a Step-by-Step Process of Becoming a Neurology Nurse Practitioner

In order to become a neurology nurse practitioner, you must first become a registered nurse. Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs are quickly becoming the educational standard in nursing because they offer far more career opportunities, but you can also attend a two-year associate degree program or a hospital-based diploma program so long as it is accredited by your state’s Board of Nursing. In order to be accepted into a NP program, however, you’ll either need to have a BSN, or you’ll need to take the equivalent of BSN classes in the first year of your NP studies.

Once you have been licensed as a registered nurse, you’ll need to look for employment within the neurological unit of a hospital or specialized facility. Since there are no advanced practice master’s programs that specialize in neurology and relatively few post-graduate residencies, most neurology NPs get their actual hands-on training on the job.

The American Board of Neuroscience Nursing offers two certifications, which you can pursue even before you enroll in a graduate-level NP program. After one year or 2,080 hours of experience working with stroke patients, you’ll be eligible to take the ABNN’s Stroke Certified Registered Nurse examination; after one year or 2,080 hours of experience working with patients affected by general neurological issues, you’ll be eligible to take the ABNN’s neuroscience nurse certification exam.

Acceptance into an NP program can be a highly competitive process. As of yet, no nurse practitioner programs offer a neurology specialization at the master’s or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) level. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care is probably the nurse practitioner specialty that comes the closest to teaching you the types of skills you will utilize when you provide neurological care. A growing number of universities and hospitals are offering one-year post-graduate residencies in neurology for nurse practitioners; among these are Duke and Dartmouth.

List of Certification Options for Neurology Nurse Practitioners

As mentioned previously, there are two neurology nurse practitioner certification options:

The Stroke Certified Registered Nurse (SCRN) credential:

The SCRN test is a multiple-choice test that’s designed to be completed in three hours. The exam costs $300 if you are a member of the ABNN and $400 for non-members. You must retake and pass the test every five years in order to keep your certification.

• The Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN) credential:

The CNRN test is also a multiple-choice exam designed to be completed in three hours. Its fees and recertification requirements are similar to those for the SCRN exam.

Both exams are administered by the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing and accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification.

Starting Salary for Neurology Nurse Practitioners

Entry-level salaries depend a great deal upon the ranges established by individual employers, the pay ranges in the geographical area where the employment is located, and the market rates for individuals doing similar jobs. On average, if you want to be a neurology nurse practitioner, you can expect your starting salary to be approximately $37.22 an hour, which works out to $6,450 a month or $77,410 a year.

Per Hour$37.22
Per Month$6,450
Per Year$77,410

Average Salary for Neurology Nurse Practitioners

Once you get some practical experience under your belt, you can expect your salary figures to go up. According to the compensation data company PayScale.com, the average neurology nurse practitioner salary is $51.12 per hour, which is $8,860 a month or $106,339 annually.

Per Hour$51.12
Per Month$8,860
Per Year$106,339
(Source: payscale.com)

Job Market for Neurology Nurse Practitioners

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data specific to the role of neurology NPs. However, it’s likely that the demand for these highly trained nurse specialists will continue to grow. For one thing, most medical specialists agree that as the Baby Boomer population grows, there will be an increase in stroke rates over the next two decades. For another, nurse practitioners can provide many of the services that doctors have traditionally provided but at a far lower cost, so increasingly, healthcare providers are turning to NPs as lower-cost substitutes.

Useful Organizations & Associations

Two professional organizations focus on nursing neuroscience:

American Association of Neuroscience Nurses:

Founded in 1968, the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN) has more than 5,200 members working in all parts of the world. The organization publishes textbooks and testing review coursework. It also published a peer-reviewed journal called “The Journal of Neuroscience Nursing” and a weekly email newsletter called “Neuroscience News” that focuses on neuroscience stories.

The American Board of Neuroscience Nursing:

The American Board of Neuroscience Nursing is a subdivision of AANN that was created for the sole purpose of developing nurse neuroscience certifications. It offers two certification tests for neurology nurses and neurology NPs: the Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse credential and the Stroke Certified Registered Nurse credential.

Summing It Up

What is a neurology nurse practitioner? He or she is an advanced practice nurse who specializes in treating patients affected by diseases of the brain and nervous system. Nurse practitioners who focus on neurology are relatively new additions to the healthcare landscape, so there is some fluidity in their training requirements. At a minimum, though, these professionals must be complete a BSN (or its equivalent) and an MSN.

As a neurology NP you’ll earn a very comfortable salary with good benefits, and you’ll have job security. The best thing about the job, though, maybe that it will never grow routine. Each patient that you interact with will bring fresh challenges and a new sense of achievement as you help that patient overcome those challenges. If you’re looking for an occupation that that is always engaging, neurology nurse practice could be the occupation for you.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

1. How long does it take to become a neurology NP?

The length of time it will take you to become a neurology nurse practitioner will vary according to your educational path, but if you get a BSN, pursue certifications as a CNRN and SCRN, get an MSN and then go on to do a post-graduate residency in nursing neurophysiology, it will take you eight years.

2. How many post-graduate nurse practitioner programs in neuroscience are there?

As of 2018, there were only five post-graduate nurse practitioner programs in neuroscience:

An Advanced Practice Neuroscience Nursing Fellowship at Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona
• A Neuroscience Nurse Practitioner Fellowship at Capital Health in New Jersey
• An Advanced Practice Provider Post-Graduate Residency in Neurology for Nurse Practitioners at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina
• A Nurse Practitioner Residency Program in Neurosciences at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas
Neuroscience Advanced Practice Provider Fellowship at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire

3. What is the curriculum like in a post-graduate NP neurology residency program?

NP neurology residency programs are typically 12-month fellowships during which you will do clinical rotations through an outpatient neurology clinic, an inpatient neurology unit, a neurosurgical ICU, a neurologic emergency medicine unit, and neurosurgery and neuroradiology units. Clinical rotations will be supplemented with Grand Rounds and didactic learning.

4. As a neurology nurse practitioner, can I set up my own independent practice?

State regulations dictate what medical services a nurse practitioner can provide. Currently, NPs can practice autonomously without physician oversight in 22 states and the District of Columbia. This does not necessarily mean, however, that nurse practitioners within a specific specialty can operate without physician oversight. Neurology NPs who are interested in setting up their own practices are urged to check with the Board of Nursing within their own states.

Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH
Pattie Trumble is a nurse who worked in both California and New York for many years as an emergency room nurse. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Associate Degree in Nursing from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. After 10 years of providing direct care, she went back to school and earned concurrent Master’s degrees in both public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, she worked for various public health agencies in California at both the community and state levels providing economic and legislative analysis.