Virginia Prendergast, PhD, NP-C, FAAN, CNRN, director, advanced practice nursing – neuroscience, Barrow Neurological Institute, Dignity Health (Phoenix)

Over the past 40 years at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Virginia Prendergast has used her roles in neuroscience nursing education, research, and neurosurgical patient care to advocate for better workplace design and support for nurses.

Beginning her career as a staff nurse in the neurosurgical ICU, she quickly advanced into roles in leadership, mentoring, and teaching. She helped found the Neuroscience Nursing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nursing education and research. In 2004, she developed a formal educational program at Barrow to support nurses who are preparing for the Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse examination—a program that remains strong today.

Outside the classroom, Prendergast has worked to increase awareness about the stress levels of nursing staff members and their need for support. To address staff exhaustion and burnout, specifically, she conceptualized and collaborated to open Active and Quiet Resilience Rooms for Barrow nurses and conducted a study on the impact of these respite areas.

The goal of that study was to quantify nurses’ emotional distress in the moment and overall burnout levels and to determine whether those levels changed after spending time in the rooms. Prendergast and her coauthors reported an almost 50 percent reduction in moderate burnout and a decrease in emotional distress in study participants. The results were presented at the 2022 HCD Conference + Expo and published in a peer-reviewed journal in June.

By sharing her research findings with other facilities, healthcare leaders, and institutions, she’s helping to further elevate the importance of addressing nurses’ mental health and stress levels, while building support for new design approaches and spaces that allow staff to decompress and recharge.

Proof of the impact of her efforts: The Barrow Neurological Institute has already expanded her program by funding two additional Quiet Resilience Rooms, slated for completion in 2024.

Click here for more on all the 2023 HCD 10 winners.