Meet Cindy Sullivan: Nurse Practitioner, Neurotrauma Program Coordinator

As the traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury program coordinator at Barrow Neurological Institute, Cindy Sullivan is working at her dream job.

Broadly speaking, Sullivan evaluates the care of patients with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries and unites experts across disciplines to make evidence-based improvements to their care.

But she hadn’t always envisioned herself in a role like this.

“That’s the beauty of nursing, right?” she said. “You’re like a stem cell; you can be whatever you want to be.”

Discovering Her ‘Dream Job’

Sullivan always knew she wanted to work in health care, but she started her freshman year of college thinking she would become a dental hygienist.

“My friend wanted to be a nurse,” Sullivan recalled. “The more we talked about it, the more that it made sense for me. Short of my family, that was the No. 1 best decision I’ve ever made.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Iowa and her master’s degree in nursing from the University of Phoenix, Sullivan joined the staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center—where Barrow is located—as an oncology nurse in 1988.

outdoor portrait of cindy sullivan
Cindy Sullivan, TBI-SCI Program Coordinator

She then worked as a trauma nurse in the intensive care unit and as a neuroscience nurse case manager before joining the Department of Neurosurgery at Barrow as a nurse clinician in 1995. She became a certified neuroscience registered nurse in 1997.

The following year, Sullivan earned her nurse practitioner certificate from Arizona State University and began working as a nurse practitioner in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Sullivan discovered her dream job while co-chairing a committee dedicated to pursuing voluntary Joint Commission certification or the Neurotrauma Program. In 2015, Barrow/St. Joseph’s Hospital became the first—and remains the only—acute care hospital in the country to earn the Disease-Specific Care Certification for both traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.

“I love those two populations, and I love to be part of the quality improvement and program development for those disease states,” she said. “Through the years, the position has developed and morphed, and the people ahead of me have laid nice footprints for me to follow.”

The Role of the TBI-SCI Program Coordinator

Sullivan started working as the TBI-SCI program coordinator in November.

She enrolls patients with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries into a database to ensure the care they receive meets established quality metrics. She then works with an interdisciplinary team to improve the quality of care and ultimately outcomes for patients with these conditions.

The position also requires Sullivan to stay abreast of relevant literature and present it to the neurotrauma committee to guide program improvements.

“Cindy stays up to date on advancements in neurosurgical nursing, and she has successfully led efforts to implement these advancements here at Barrow,” said Dr. Laura Snyder, a neurosurgeon and the director of the Neurotrauma Program at Barrow.

“We’re lucky to have nurses like Cindy at Barrow. Cindy has significant experience taking care of patients with neurosurgical disorders, and she provides compassionate care to all of them.”

Dr. Laura Snyder, Director of Neurotrauma Program

But having this new role doesn’t mean Sullivan has left the bedside. Following patients with neurotrauma throughout the continuum of care is part of what makes it her dream job.

“We’re lucky to have nurses like Cindy at Barrow,” Dr. Snyder said. “Cindy has significant experience taking care of patients with neurosurgical disorders, and she provides compassionate care to all of them.”

Sullivan also enjoys participating in research projects and prevention efforts related to neurotrauma.

“Being part of the new, innovative treatments for the care of those patients drives me internally,” she said.

Being ‘Barrow-Minded’

Sullivan is one of more than 100 nurses at Barrow who have received national certification as neuroscience nurses (CNRN) from the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing. Certified neuroscience nurses have demonstrated advanced knowledge of the anatomy of the nervous system and the various diseases that affect it.

“The fact that Barrow has the most CNRN certified neuroscience nurses nationally, speaks volumes to our level of commitment to our neuro patients, and they receive excellent care at the bedside,” she said. “It also speaks volumes to our leadership here, who always have our back and promote excellence.”

Sullivan said she feels fortunate to work with nurses and physicians whom she calls “North Stars” of leadership, innovation, and mentorship. She hopes to be able to impart the wisdom she’s gleaned from her mentors to the next generation of neuroscience nurses.

“I’ve always said I’m really proud to be part of the Barrow family,” she added. “We come to work and, as a team, work hard with a unified purpose. But then we go home, and we love and play hard with our families. We make sure to laugh every day. Barrow is my home away from home. At my core, I am, and will always be, Barrow-minded.”

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