2020 Nursing Page Update

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York College student’s path to become nurse anesthetist ‘a long time coming’

Diane head and shoulders

It was always part of the plan for Diane Farrell ’20 to go back to anesthesia school after becoming a nurse. She was only in high school when she started looking into nurse anesthesia. Her father encouraged her to consider the nurse anesthesia profession, and after shadowing a nurse anesthetist Diane knew what she wanted to do. “Ever since then, I’ve kept that in the background of what I would want to do in the future, so it’s been a long time coming,” she says. 

Nurse Anesthetist programs require a BS in Nursing and a minimum of a year in the ICU to gain critical care experience. Diane says many people wait around two to three years before going back to school—she waited six. 

Before applying to anesthesia school, Diane, from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, had to again shadow someone in the field. The nurse anesthetist she shadowed was a York College of Pennsylvania graduate who recommended Diane look at the school and meet different professors. “They’ll teach you everything you need to know for graduation. It’s more like family there instead of the programs where you’re just a number,” her mentor said.

The more Diane learned about the program, the more she felt it was the right fit. It was the only school she applied to, and she started in 2017. The three-year program helped Diane get her MS in Nursing in May 2019, and she’ll graduate in May 2020 with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Why nurse anesthesia?

While the nursing field itself is broad, Diane says she was attracted to the varied nature of nurse anesthesia itself. She can work with all types of patient populations, as well as all age groups, from pediatric to geriatric. Plus, she has the opportunity to practice in specific specialties, such as neurology or orthopedics, or she could even work in an outpatient dental practice. “I think that the broad, different case types are what really drew me in,” she says.

Diane also loves the hands-on nature of the job. Nurse anesthetists are able to not only intubate and deliver general anesthesia. They can perform peripheral nerve blocks to numb a site before surgery, perform epidurals, and insert central lines. There is a lot of critical thinking and planning involved, too, as Diane will work as part of an anesthesia care team to plan and implement patient specific anesthetics.

While nurse anesthetists cannot practice independently in Pennsylvania, they can in other states. Through York College, Diane got the opportunity to do clinical in Wisconsin, where CRNAs (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) practice independently. She says it was one of her favorite parts of school so far, as she got to think outside of the box and see what full autonomy looks like.

Taking an active role in leadership

Through the Nurse Anesthetist program, Diane discovered a passion for leadership. She’s had the opportunity to go to many nurse anesthesia conferences, and she was a student member of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists (PANA) State Governance Relations Committee. At the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ (AANA) Mid-Year Assembly on Capitol Hill, she met with legislators to discuss the field. “I had the opportunity to meet the PANA board and learn the political side of nurse anesthesia in Pennsylvania,” she says. “It’s one of the highlights of anesthesia school for sure.”

Diane carried over her passion for leadership to her fellowship, as well. She got to shadow two chief CRNAs in Wisconsin to learn about hospital administration and shadowed the CEO of the AANA in Illinois.

Now, Diane is hoping to use these experiences in her future job as a CRNA at UPMC Pinnacle West Shore Hospital, where she previously worked in the ICU. Her terminal student program focused on perioperative warming and how hospitals can improve patient outcomes by keeping patients warm throughout the perioperative period. She hopes to implement this program at the hospital when she starts.

For now, Diane will finish the program she’s been 100% committed to. “It’s very difficult to quit your job,” she says. “You have to become a novice student again. It’s hard to go back to school and have the realization, ‘I thought I knew a lot after working as a nurse in critical care, but I really know nothing.’ ”

Currently, Diane sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and she’s grateful for the support she’s gotten as part of the “York College family” along the way.