Meeting the needs of nurse anesthesia

UAB School of Nursing provides future nurse anesthetists hands-on training through partnerships with UAB Hospital and their growing Doctor of Nursing Practice Pathway for Nurse Anesthesia.
Written by: Erica Techo
Media contact: Hannah Echols

Anethstesia StreamPhotography: Frank CouchAs the nation faces a critical nursing shortage across all specialties, certified registered nurse anesthetists are no exception. The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing has grown and tailored its Doctor of Nursing Practice Pathway for Nurse Anesthesia to help meet workforce needs and reflect the crucial role CRNAs play in providing care to all communities, especially in rural and under-resourced areas.

Since transitioning it from a master’s program to a doctoral program in 2017, the school has seen a steady climb in its Nurse Anesthesia DNP’s cohort size — rising from 29 students in 2015 to 53 in the incoming summer 2022 cohort.

“We’ve been increasing the size of our program to help meet the increased workforce need in Alabama and in contiguous states,” said Susan McMullan, Ph.D., associate professor and Nurse Anesthesia Pathway director. “Most of our graduates go on to work in areas that are medically underserved, combating shortages and meeting the state’s needs for CRNAs.”

Throughout the program, students rotate at multiple clinical sites across the state in Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Florence, Huntsville, Dothan and Mobile, as well as Jackson, Mississippi. They gain experience, network with practicing nurse anesthetists and receive insight into practice excellence at each site. Many of the graduates go on to accept positions at one of the clinical sites.

“The goal is for students to stay where they train in order to help combat shortages,” McMullan said. “Each of our sites has hired at least one of our graduates, and that is important. These locations and the hospital systems benefit from having CRNAs who already have experience within the hospital system. Because students are at clinical sites the last several months of the program, once they graduate and are hired full time, they are able to hit the ground running.”

Such is the case at UAB Hospital, part of UAB Medicine, one of the nation’s largest health systems, and one of the school’s on-campus partners through the UAB Nursing Partnership. Upcoming graduate Drew Nolen had four clinical rotations at UAB Hospital, which he says provided further insight into the nurse anesthesia role and led to valuable experiences with different patient populations, units and more.

For more information about the DNP Pathway for Nurse Anesthesia and how to apply, visit the UAB School of Nursing website.

“Getting to work at UAB showed me the different level of acuity and autonomy I could experience,” said Nolen, who will start a job at UAB Hospital after graduation. “Being able to rotate through clinical experiences at UAB prepares you to work anywhere. All the staff are supportive of students, and you work with many different people and see different approaches. The reason I accepted a position at UAB is looking forward into my future. I don’t think there is a better facility or hospital to work at, to set yourself up for success in practice.”

Nolen is not the only student joining the staff of UAB Hospital. Of 23 CRNA vacancies at UAB Hospital, 15 will be filled by UABSON graduates, a ratio that shows the strength of the partnership between UABSON and UAB Medicine.

“We have had an increased collaboration between our program and UAB Hospital’s Nurse Anesthesiology to help in the hiring of our graduates,” McMullan said. “Graduates are taking jobs not only at UAB main hospital, but also at the UAB Cardiovascular Institute and UAB Hospital-Highlands. We’re glad that UAB can count on our graduates to fill those spots and train them in a way to fit the hospital’s needs.”

We’re hiring! UAB Medicine has openings for health care and support workers and will host hiring fairs in February. Read more here.

The UAB School of Nursing is also part of the Leadership Excel and Achievement Program certificate pathway, a pilot program designed to optimize the diversity of the nurse anesthesia workforce. After completing the LEAP pathway, two certificate recipients will join the UAB School of Nursing DNP Pathway for Nurse Anesthesia in the summer 2022 semester cohort.

“It is important to have a diverse nurse anesthesia profession because our CRNAs serve a diverse population,” McMullan said. “I’m excited about the LEAP program because it’s the first program that is focused on supporting minority student success in admission to nurse anesthesia programs. Another existing program teaches students about nurse anesthesia, which is excellent; but this sets up a pathway so students are accepted into schools upon completion.”

Read more about the DNP Pathway for Nurse Anesthesia program here.