Jan Stewart Lecture Conveys ‘It’s OK Not to be OK’

​Maria van Pelt, CRNA, MS, MSN, delivered the 10th annual Jan Stewart Lecture, “The Aftermath of Perioperative Catastrophes: Our (CRNAs) Voices are Finally Heard!” Monday morning in the Grand Ballroom.
Van Pelt has devoted her research to investigating the effects of perioperative catastrophes on healthcare workers, specifically CRNAs. She shared with the audience the reason for her efforts, what she calls “The Case of the Red Hat.” When she was program director at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Nurse Anesthesia Program, one of van Pelt’s students spoke with her after losing a patient. Just three months later, another catastrophe happened to the same student.
“The only thing she said to me was, ‘I shouldn’t have worn my red hat. I wore my hat in both cases,’” recalled van Pelt. “That’s when my quest for knowledge came.”
Magro said that it’s normal for people to experience emotional, physical, and physiological processes after such a stressful event. She said that anesthesia professionals will most likely experience one perioperative death in their careers, and she is conducting research examining CRNAs.
Of the CRNAs taking part in her survey, many responded that, just after catastrophe, they alternate between denial and intrusive thoughts, a normal phenomenon. Van Pelt said many healthcare workers remember even minute detail long after catastrophic events. She explained how that, since the brain is completely committed to medical care at the time of traumatic events, memories are more salient.
“There’s a contention of individuals who may say they’re ok but they’re really not,” she said. Van Pelt also championed the peer support model and said she’s developing one at Massachusetts General Hospital where she works. In general, she recommends training for CRNAs in how to deal with catastrophes, developing programs at healthcare institutions, and creating state and national policies to support them.
Van Pelt has served on the AANA Wellness Committee and was named the 2012 AANA Foundation Doctoral Fellow. She is currently a PhD candidate at Villanova University and is on the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation Executive Committee, Board of Directors and the Committee for Education and Training.  She has served on the AANA Wellness committee and is the current chair of the Massachusetts Association of Nurse Anesthetists Wellness Committee. Van Pelt has been selected as the 2013-14 American Hospital Association (AHA) National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) Patient Safety Leadership Fellow.