Why I Became a CRNA

Wallena Gould, MSN, CRNA

  • Sep 29, 2009

CRNA since 2004

Wallena GouldMy first nursing position was an operating room nurse, where my responsibilities included scrub and circulating duties. It was Ben Wright, CRNA, chief nurse anesthetist at Underwood Hospital, and Dolores Murphy, chief nurse anesthetist at Presbyterian Medical Center, who inspired me to pursue the field of nurse anesthesia. This was the first time I was introduced to the nurse anesthesia profession, and also where I found, at two hospitals, that both chief nurse anesthetists were African American. For me it was profound. Immediately, I left the operating room to build up my nursing skills on a telemetry floor, then to move on to Trauma.
As a student nurse anesthetist at La Salle University, I was in a curriculum that was shared by the four nurse anesthesia programs in the Philadelphia area, and where the lack of minority faculty in these programs was immediately observed. I decided to address this in a poster project.
In our nurse anesthesia program, a poster project was assigned to each student. I took pictures in my class of the minority student nurse anesthetists simulating spinal placement, ventilating a patient, and assessing a patient.  Objectives were stated, and the AANA’s demographic statistics of the minority nurse anesthetists in the profession were graphically depicted on the poster. The poster was entitled, Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia. A stellar grade was earned as a result, but something was wrong…and again I decided to address it.
I started a local mentorship program for incoming minority student nurse anesthetists to meet with my classmates for lunch and to review the anesthesia machine. This mentorship program expanded the year after when I began working as a CRNA. It was Art Zwerling, DNP, MSN, CRNA, DAAPM, with whom I shared my vision to increase diversity in the profession, and he simply said, "Think outside the box and do what no one else is doing." It was Bob Shearer, MSN, CRNA, who encouraged me to expand the mentorship program outside the Philadelphia area while I was still a nurse anesthesia student at Montgomeray Hospital School of Nurse Anesthesia.
That year, the gathering was held at Crozer Chester Medical Center with incoming minority students from La Salle University, the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph University, Villanova University, Drexel University and the University of Maryland. Bette Wildgust, MSN, CRNA, program director of Villanova University, made the arrangements to have the meeting at Crozer Chester Medical Center. I would not have had the opportunity to have this event if she had not been involved. New graduates from these programs were on the panel to speak to the new students and a few ICU nurses interested in applying to a nurse anesthesia program.
In 2007, another information session luncheon was planned at Pennsylvania Hospital. On the panel were Kate Kinslow, EdD, MBA, CRNA, CEO of Pennsylvania Hospital; and Art Zwerling, DNP, MSN, CRNA, DAAPM, program director at the University of Pennsylvania.  This was the first time an AANA leader was invited to attend the Information Session Luncheon: Terry Wicks, MHS, CRNA, president of AANA, who was engaging and very approachable. One of the most important roles on the panel was Fred Peterson, a student nurse anesthetist from the University of Pennsylvania as the student moderator. Later in the year, an anesthesia airway workshop was planned at  South Jersey Healthcare System for incoming students.
The year after that, the Information Session Luncheon was in New Jersey, and Ms. Goldie Brangman, CRNA, and AANA past president, was our guest speaker. Later in the year, three anesthesia airway workshops were planned.  After that, John Bing, CRNA, and I visited four HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Schools of Nursing to speak to nursing students about the profession.
A graduation dinner celebration for student nurse anesthetists and a website was launched, www.diversitycrna.org. In 2009, there were three Information Session Luncheons in N.J,. Calif., and Fla.  Frank Purcell, BS, [former] AANA senior director of Federal Government Affairs, and Dr. Francis Gerbasi, PhD, CRNA, executive director of the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA),  were the guest speakers for the first two events.
One of my mentors and a true visionary leader who had a profound effect on me to advance diversity in the nurse anesthesia profession is Jeffrey Beutler, MS, CRNA, former AANA executive director.
All of this started as a poster project…