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Safe Sleep Through Anesthesia

Safe Sleep Through Anesthesia
Terrie Norris, left, uses a training dummy to instruct first-year students Laurel Schooler, center, and Cheryl Powell in the proper placement of an endotracheal tube into the throat � a routine anesthesiology procedure.

Some students may complain about professors making them drowsy, but in one Keck School of Medicine of USC program, the students are learning how to put others to sleep.

The USC Program of Nurse Anesthesia is a master’s level program within the Department of Anesthesiology that trains nurses to provide such services to patients in a variety of settings.

The program renewed its accreditation in late May from the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Programs, achieving a 100 percent in-compliance ranking and 10-year accreditation — the highest available.

“We are a rigorous program and our students have on average 3.1 years of professional nursing experience in a clinical intensive care setting before coming to our program,” said Michele Gold, director of the program. “We value that clinical experience very highly. We see a really good correlation between clinical experience and then success in the program.”

Nurse anesthetists have a long history of providing anesthesia services in the United States, beginning with the Civil War. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, certified registered nurse anesthetists administer approximately 30 million anesthetics to patients each year.

While the anesthetists are more common on the East Coast and Midwest than in California, USC’s graduates do go on to practice locally.

“They are in rural areas and they are in the military, but, here in Los Angeles, they are also at County Hospital, USC University Hospital and Harbor/UCLA,” said Terrie Norris, associate director of the nurse anesthesia program. “We have graduates who go out into private practice in major surgery centers or in plastic surgery offices. Kaiser Permanente is also a very large employer of nurse anesthetists in many of their facilities.”

Certified registered nurse anesthetists are the highest compensated of all nursing specialties, but Norris noted that the USC students are more excited about the professional challenges inherent in the practice.

“Every day is completely different because all patients react differently to the anesthetics,” she said. “You read in the textbooks what the normal reaction would be, but then your patient has a variation of what that normal reaction would be. There are ranges for medication dosages. It’s your job to figure out where in that range your patient lies.”

The program first came to USC in 1996, having moved from UCLA to become part of the USC School of Nursing. When that department was disbanded in 2004, the nurse anesthesia program was incorporated into the Keck School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology.

“The university recognized the strength of the nurse anesthesia program,” Gold said. “The chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Philip Lumb, was instrumental in working with the university to help the program survive and really thrive here in the Keck School.”

Despite receiving a stellar 10-year accreditation, the nurse anesthesia program is not resting on its laurels. According to Gold, administrators plan to transition the program from a master’s degree to a doctorate level within the next three to five years.

“We are looking for the leaders of tomorrow, and with that, we are looking for those who want to work hard in this rigorous program and then get out into the field and face high stakes and big challenges,” she said.

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