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Working to increase diversity in nurse anesthesia

The Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) has partnered with "Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program" for developing a diverse workforce.

The national organization offers workshops and CRNA mentors to inform, empower and mentor underserved diverse populations with information to prepare for a successful career in nurse anesthesia. The university's School of Nursing fully supports the program, and believes it is needed at every healthcare institution.

This summer, nearly 100 registered nurses from across the United States who specialize in critical care, and nursing students preparing to become critical care nurses attended, the Diversity CRNA Information Session held on the SMU Oakland campus.

"Like many other healthcare professional disciplines, nurse anesthesia education programs face the challenge of recruiting, retaining and graduating a sufficient number of qualified students to meet the healthcare workforce demands," explains Celeste Villanueva, CRNA, MS, director of SMU's Program of Nurse Anesthesia and of the university's Health Sciences Simulation Center. "A significant aspect of this challenge is achieving an ethnically and culturally diverse student mix that reflects the patient population of the local community - in California, that population is highly likely to be comprised of a percentage of people with minority backgrounds far greater than 16 percent."

The two-day event started with a panel discussion about the need to increase diversity in nursing as a first step to increasing diversity in advanced practice nursing specialties. "The importance of mentorship is our core value and a diverse group of advance practice nurses as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist is our immediate goal," said Wallena Gould, CRNA, MSN, founder of Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.

On the last day of the workshop, attendees trained at the campus' Health Sciences Simulation Center "Airway Simulation Lab." The lab practice allowed them to increase their awareness of the challenges of a nurse anesthesia curriculum and provided a glimpse of the innovative learning methods utilized by the SMU faculty. More than six dozen nurses were guided through the hands-on experience on the anesthesia machine equipment designed to provide an accurate and continuous supply of medical gases into the airway. The attendees also interacted with the human-like mannequins that are managed by highly sophisticated computer software.

"We take every opportunity to expose future healthcare professionals to the benefits of simulation-based education," explains Villanueva. "With the immersive experiences and self-reflection that are characteristic of simulation instructional methods, healthcare providers have the opportunity to develop and refine their technical and decisionmaking skills without putting patients at risk."

Byron Anderson, critical care registered nurse from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said the experience at SMU helped him get a better understanding of what school will be like once he enters a CRNA program next year. "I wanted to get an extra jump-start on things, just to be more relaxed and gain more confidence in my decision making," he said. "I think what they have here at SMU is awesome, especially the crisis management system they use."

Fanjini Singh, RN, has been working at Kaiser's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Sacramento for six years. This fall she is applying for the CRNA program at SMU. She applauds the university's efforts to increase diversity in healthcare. "In today's society we are very diverse, we speak different languages, we come from different countries and we have to be able to adapt," she said. "We have to have healthcare professionals who are educated about different cultures, able to speak the language and to be culturally sensitive. It's really important to have a diverse healthcare workforce."

"This is where the future of America is," states Krishneel Lall, SMU nursing student in the CRNA program. "If people are exposed to different opportunities they will take advantage of those opportunities. Exposure like this will bring a lot of minorities into new health fields where they have never been to before due to lack of support or mentors."