In 2002, this article appeared on the AANA website as part of the Someone You Should Know section. Dr. Worth continues to teach student registered nurse anesthetists at Wayne State University, Detroit.
When she was a younger woman, Wayne State University's Director of the Department of Anesthesia, Prudentia Worth, CRNA, PhD, had an avid interest in teaching. She worked with kindergartners and felt a strong pull to the profession of teaching. "The interest in teaching never left me," says Worth, explaining how, as program director for the nurse anesthesia educational program at Wayne State University, "It makes me feel like I didn't move too far from the job I wanted to do."
Worth was born Prudentia Johnson in the Caribbean island country of Grenada, one of seven children. Two of her older sisters also are nurses. As a teenager, Worth and those two older sisters were taken from Grenada by their mother, and moved to London, England, to be given the educational opportunity their mother never had. "There were only two fields of concentration open to me when I was growing up," says Worth. "Teaching and nursing." Although the Johnson sisters chose to be educated in nursing, Worth would eventually combine both nursing and teaching in
her career, and succeed in ways she couldn't even imagine then.
Though she was too young to enter the general nursing program in England, which mandated applicants be 18, Worth, at the age of 17, was able to work in the field of ophthalmic nursing, as it accepted younger workers. She earned her diploma in ophthalmic nursing at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. She was then of an age to be able to complete her diploma in nursing at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital, also in London.
Sponsored by a friend and the Orange Memorial Hospital in Orange, N.J., Worth came to the United States on a resident's visa. "Because not all the qualifications I had were comparable to those of American nurses, I had to continue my nursing education," says Worth, who then completed rotations in obstetrics and pediatrics.
Moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., Worth continued her nursing education at Brookdale Hospital. One of her sisters, who had emigrated from England to Canada, then made the move to Detroit, a move that would prove momentous for younger sister Prudentia. Encouraged by her sister to come to Detroit, Worth also made the move and became a private duty nurse.
It was after her move to Detroit that Worth first heard of nurse anesthesia. A surgeon told her she would make a good nurse anesthetist, and recommended she talk to John F. Garde, co-founder of the Wayne State University Nurse
Anesthesia Program. "Nurse anesthesia was not practiced in England, so I didn't even fully understand what nurse anesthesia was," chuckles Worth.
She explains that she was very obedient as a younger woman, given to following career suggestions with little resistance. "I didn't have the independence then that I see in younger women now. When I was growing up, we were taught to be seen but not heard, to remain in the background."
After meeting with Garde, and being interviewed, she was accepted. However, the experience was not all that she thought it would be. "I struggled. I cried a lot. People were so intimidating, I was very intimidated by the anesthesia world," says Worth. "But I felt as though I could learn, even though it was a struggle. I was never one to give up. I never saw failure as an acceptable thing. There had to be some way to do whatever I'm going to do."
Worth persevered, acquiring a new resolve to succeed. She continued her nesthesia studies under the patient tutelage of Garde and the other Wayne State University Nurse Anesthesia Program co-founder, Dr. Celestine Harrigan, "who helped me with book work, to become book smart." Then, all at once, things seemed to fall in place. "I came to work one morning, and it all clicked," says Worth, delighted even many years later. "It was like night and day. The staff saw a different person, and I saw that myself. I woke up one morning and knew what it was all about."
"It was a phenomenal, rewarding experience to have it all click," she remembers. "Something gelled. Can I tell you what gelled? I don't know. It became clear what the role of a nurse anesthetist should be. I wanted to show them I could do it. I put in a lot of time looking to see what people were doing. The challenge becomes the reward."
Worth feels that in her current position as director of the Department of Anesthesia at Wayne State University, her former struggles as an anesthesia student gives her more "sensitivity to students who are struggling. To me, the most fascinating students are the ones who struggle yet show an interest. I don't minimize the students to whom knowledge comes easily, like second nature, but I find a lot of reward in an individual who has struggled but wants to learn. I have little tolerance for people not applying themselves. They've got to put in the effort.
"A successful CRNA is extremely self-motivated and self-directed," explains Worth. "Nurse anesthesia students today must have preparation, organization, and be ready for hard work. They must be good time managers and not expect to be spoon-fed. They must have an internal commitment. They must be dependent upon themselves to get what they want. Although the staff is here to help them reach those goals, a significant part has to come from them."
On a personal front, Worth has also faced the dilemma of all working parents: have her children suffered because she chose to be a working mom? "I have two girls and I remember my younger daughter, about 3 years old then, telling her friends in the neighborhood that her mom lives in a hospital," says Worth. "I suppose at times it did look like I was married to it, but I never missed a parent-teacher conference or school activities that the kids were involved with."
In spite of her dedication to her children and their activities, Worth still feels occasional pangs of guilt. "The neighborhood moms always manage to point out why kids do better when their moms are home with them! I manage to periodically relieve myself of the guilt feelings by talking to Dr. I.K. Rosenberg, a surgeon whose wife was a pathologist with several kids and always worked. He always reminded me that it was not how much or how little time you spent with your kids, but how productive that time was. That was support," she says. "I think my kids are fine today."
Last August, Prudentia Worth was awarded the 2001 Program Director of the Year Award by the AANA at its 68th Annual Meeting in San Francisco. "Was I surprised? Absolutely. I like to do what needs to be done without pats on the back," she says modestly. "Accomplishment is achieved through the work of the students and the people I work with. The structure that comes out of the program is as a result of the commitment the people I work with have. Being responsible."
When she accepted her award, Worth said, "I could not have done my job as program director without the support of such a fine group of people. Of course it is difficult to have a program without students. I am continually impressed by the knowledge of our students entering anesthesia. Their preparation for a career in anesthesia, their awareness of issues that have an impact on the anesthesia profession, and their willingness to be informed, indicate strong leadership potential... I appreciate the teachers who recognize that students are the future of the profession and nurture them. My anesthesia career has provided me numerous opportunities to grow and to experience the rewards and satisfaction of the profession... My experience and successes could not have happened without continued support and the mentoring that I received from colleagues, instructors, supervisors, deans, and family over the years... It is with a deep sense of humility and appreciation that I accept this award granted to me by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists."