Your Stroke Team

Who will take care of you if you have a stroke?

Happy female doctor and nurse discussing with male patient in clinic
Your stroke team comprises many healthcare professionals. Hero Images/Getty Images

A stroke is a serious health problem that almost always results in long-term life changes for a stroke survivor. 

People who experience a stroke need emergency medical care. The medical care immediately after a stroke and throughout the recovery process comes from a wide variety of health care professionals patient. There are numerous treatments and tools that are used to help take care of a stroke. But it is the hard-working people involved in the stroke care of a patient that have the most profound impact on your comfort and outcome. 

If you have experienced a stroke, you and your family will get to know various members of the team throughout the first months after a stroke and possibly for years to come. 

Family doctor - A family doctor is a doctor who you should see for regular check-ups, health maintenance, and health problems. Estimates suggest that up to 30% of strokes are unnoticed by the patient. These unnoticed strokes are called silent strokes. Some patients who do not notice a stroke may go to the doctor for a seemingly simple complaint, such as tingling or dizziness. Family doctors detect changes caused by a stroke during routine physical examinations and then initiate treatment plans and preventative measures to avoid further strokes.

911 dispatcher/ operator - Some patients have more sudden symptoms, and require emergency help. 911 dispatchers are trained to send immediate help for a suspected stroke.

Paramedics - When emergency help is called, paramedics are called to assess and transport the patient. Paramedics are trained to evaluate emergency health situations and to medically stabilize patients and transport patients to a facility with resources, such as a hospital, urgent care center, or emergency room. Paramedics also report the clinical condition to the staff that will continue medical care.

Emergency ward triage desk - Some stroke patients go to the emergency room alone or with family. Patients will sign in and describe medical complaints to a professional at the triage desk. The triage staff is trained to ask vital questions to determine how urgent the situation is and to prioritize patients who require immediate care.

Nurses - Nurses in the hospital, urgent care or emergency room examine patients and closely monitor changes. Nurses administer medications, follow through with care, monitor test results, coordinate the timing of most of the testing, patient care, essential needs and maintain flow of the many team members. Nurses are also the primary communicators when a patient is transferred from one area of care to another-for example from the emergency room to the intensive care unit, or from the inpatient hospital ward to the rehabilitation floor.

Nurses aid - A nurse’s aid carries out direct patient care, often with the direction and supervision of a nurse or nursing coordinator.

Medical students - Medical students on rotations are assigned to follow patients and to report the progress to supervising physicians. Medical students often take a very meticulous history and perform a detailed physical examination, which they will be evaluated on for accuracy and thoroughness. Medical students do not make decisions or deliver direct patient care. A medical student will most likely remember every detail of your story for the next 50 years, particularly if he or she has not yet seen many patients with a stroke.

Resident - The resident physician is a physician in training who has completed medical school. Residents have more responsibility and experience than medical students, but they are still supervised by attending physicians, who have completed training and licensing.

Emergency physician - The emergency physician is a physician who is on staff in the emergency room. This physician’s expertise lies in stabilizing patients, managing urgent matters and arranging for specialty care during the hospital stay. The emergency physician will recognize that you have had a stroke and will begin acute care.

Radiology technician - If you need an imaging study of the brain, such as a Brain CT scan or a Brain MRI, you will meet a radiology technician. The technician gets you properly situated, explains what you should expect during the study, determines the settings of the equipment, runs the equipment, and may take additional pictures, or pictures from different angles to optimize the clarity of the study.

Phlebotomist - The phlebotomist is specialized in drawing blood. The phlebotomist will make you comfortable and obtain blood using a needle inserted into a small vein, and will take it to the laboratory for testing. Usually, this process is quite quick.

Neurologist - A neurologist is a doctor specialized in care of the nervous system. A neurologist might be asked to evaluate you in the emergency room, in the hospital, or in a follow-up office visit. The neurologist will be able to explain where the stroke occurred, what caused it, what you should expect, the best route of treatment, and what you can do to optimize your recovery.

Neurosurgeon - A neurosurgeon is a doctor who operates on the brain. If you have a hemorrhagic stroke, with a large area of bleeding, the blood may need to be removed. If a stroke is caused by an abnormal blood vessel, called an aneurysm, a neurosurgeon or interventional neuroradiologist, might repair it. Additionally, if a stroke causes severe swelling and compression of the structures if the brain, a neurosurgeon might remove a portion of the skull temporarily while the swelling resolves.

Vascular surgeon - Some patients have a severe narrowing of the carotid artery, which supplies the brain with blood. Severe narrowing of the carotid arteries can be a risk factor for stroke for some people and may need to be repaired.

Radiologist -A radiologist is a doctor who is specialized in reading and interpreting x-rays and other imaging studies. A radiologist will carefully examine your imaging studies and provide a report with the findings. Your imaging studies will also be thoroughly evaluated by the other doctors caring for you as well.

Physical therapist - During recovery, a physical therapist will evaluate your abilities and work on re-training muscles for imported mobility.

Occupational therapist - The occupational therapist is similar to the physical therapist, and some of the exercises may be similar. In general, occupational therapy is more focused on safety and carrying out tasks, while physical therapy is more focused on strengthening muscles and improving coordination.

Speech and swallow specialist- A speech and swallow specialist will evaluate your speech and swallowing. These tasks require many muscles to work together. A treatment plan for improving speech and safe swallowing will be produced after the evaluation.

Dietician - A dietician will work on making a plan to include proper calorie intake with the right amount of nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates fats, vitamins, minerals, and salt. You may have to make some dietary changes if your cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure measurements are found to be too high.

The Scientist- A scientist does research that will improve stroke care. It may take years for research to become approved. Your care now is a result of years of painstaking research done by many dedicated scientists.

There are a variety of people who take care of a stroke patient. They each have their own role, yet they work together. All members of your team should be open to answering questions about your care, and about what you should expect next.

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