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1.2. Educating Nursing staff about SCI

United Spinal association Factsheet: Educating Nursing Staff to Care for the Spinal Cord Injury Patient

United Spinal Asociation Resource Center recognizes that a nursing team, in a particular setting, may not be familiar with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D). Further, we recognize and understand that nurses and related personnel may need assistance to better understand the complex care needs of a person with a SCI/D. Valid SCI/D information and resources are useful and important tools to assist in necessary staff education. Specific knowledge and understanding about SCI/D is essential to develop best practices and deliver patient care with improved outcomes. We are always eager to provide guidance when we are contacted by professional staff members who want to increase their knowledge about caring for the person who has sustained or is living with a SCI/D.

As you know, SCI/D is a catastrophic, life-changing injury; it affects all systems of the body.  A person may also become SCI/D as the result of a medical condition or intervention. This injury/dysfunction is unique to each person, i.e. no two injuries are alike.  Consequently, knowledge of care needs and outcomes is so very important as the nurses and health care team are helping this person to begin the rest of his/her life with a body that now works differently.  The goal should be to help that person, and his family, have hope for tomorrow and to realize that they can still live a full, independent, productive life, within the limits of their disability.

There are some excellent resources available to help you with staff education.  Below is a listing of books, websites and organizations that may help you on this journey:


1.    Nelson, Audrey, Ed.  Nursing Practice Related to Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders: A Core Curriculum.  2001 EPVA (now United Spinal Association).  A very comprehensive, excellent presentation written for a broad range of nurses.  Each Chapter includes Learning Objectives, Specific Introductory and Content sections, Practical Applications, References and Bibliographies.

2.    Barker, Ellen, MSN, RN, CNRN.  Neuroscience Nursing: A Spectrum of Care, 3rd Ed. 2008 Mosby Elsevier. Detailed text on neuroscience nursing with very good sections on SCI, rehabilitation, non-traumatic disorders of the spine.

3.    Dobbs, Jean et al.  Spinal Network: The Total Wheelchair Resource Book, 4th Ed.  No Limits Communications. Available from New Mobility Bookstore.  Excellent reference for both the professional and consumer.  Contains good, practical information and an excellent list of resources.


  1. Consortium of Spinal Cord Medicine - Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Professional:   Can be downloaded for free from PVA publications, available on CD-ROMS, or can be ordered for free in hard copy.  Scroll through the list...in particular see Guidelines for Bowel and Bladder management, Respiratory management and Autonomic Dysreflexia
  2. Consortium of Spinal Cord Medicine, Consumer Guides:  Practical, useful, concise (as above)

To access PVA Clinical Practice Guidelines and PVA Consumer Guides, please visit: Clinical Practice Guidelines and Consumer Guides

Web Sites:

  1. United Spinal Association: 
  2. University of Miami PoinTIS:  2009. Handbooks for consumer as well as  professionals for both SCI and TBI.  Excellent explanation of SCI, team members and their function, knowledge pertinent to each system affected by the level of injury, etc.  Read the content thoroughly
  3. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC): The MSKTC summarizes research, identifies health information needs, and develops information resources to support the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems Center programs in meeting the needs of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) including numerous factsheets on important health and wellness topics.  
  4. University of Alabama, Spinal Cord Injury Model System Information Network:
    • SCI Fact Sheets: TheUAB-SCIMS offers a series of Information Sheets on selected topics related to SCI.
    • Rehab Tip Sheets: These sheets provide rehabilitation care providers and consumer caregivers  with step-by-step instructions and photo illustration on performing common activities.
    • Secondary Conditions of SCI Health Education Video SeriesThis 11-part video series is intended to be equally useful for persons with spinal cord impairments at home or by health and rehabilitation centers for education and training activities.  Videos are available as download, streaming video or DVDs that can be ordered.                                                                  
  5. Craig Hospital Health and Wellness Information: Educational brochures on living with SCI; includes practical advice
  6. Northwest Regional Spinal Cord System of Care:  Peruse the entire NW site; includes forums, pamphlets, and video series.  All are very good resources
  7. CareCure Forums: Professionally managed website, hosted by Rutgers University.  Includes several forums that are moderated by SCI professionals; Medical Administrator is Dr. Wise Young, a world renown neuroscience SCI researcher and MD who has devoted his entire medical career to SCI and people living with SCI.  The Care Forum is an excellent Forum to obtain Health information specific to SCI; it is moderated by a team of SCI Rehab nurses.
  8. Information on Passive Range of Motion , transfers, adaptive equipment:  Under SCI Manual for Patients and Families, see Movement Disorders in SCI


  1. Academy of SCI Professionals, Inc
  2. Association of Neuroscience Nurses
  3. Association of Rehabilitation Nurses.
  4. United Spinal Association: membership is free
  5. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Find a physiatrist for your patient.

Best wishes in your efforts to educate your staff!


This fact sheet, compiled by Charleene R. Frazier, RN, MS, information specialist, is offered by United Spinal Association as an information service (and a resource guide); it is not intended to cover all programs, treatments, or research in the field nor is it an endorsement of any aspect of its content.  Any information that you may have to further update this fact sheet would be greatly appreciated.  United Spinal provides information and referral on any subject related to spinal cord injury.  Contact the Resource Center at askus@unitedspinal.org or toll free at 1-800-962-9629, Monday through Friday from 8:30-5:00 ET.

Published: November 2008

Revised: June 2012




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