Alumnae give first scholarship for diverse NA students

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Kesha L. Thurston and LaDana Williams-Davis

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing alumnae Kesha L. Thurston, DNP, MS, CRNA (BSN 1998, MNA 2006, DNP 2019), and LaDana Williams-Davis, DNP, MS, CRNA (MNA 2010, DNP 2019), hope to inspire a new and diverse generation of nurse anesthetists to reach their full potential with their gift to endow a scholarship at the School.

For years Thurston and Williams-Davis wanted to find a way to give back and encourage underrepresented students to pursue nursing or other fields of health care. When they came across the opportunity to support nurse anesthesia students with a scholarship at the UAB School of Nursing, they knew they wanted to do it. Together, they are establishing the Kesha Thurston, CRNA and LaDana Williams-Davis, CRNA Endowed Scholarship in Nurse Anesthesia.

“At the end of the day, we just wanted to give back because we know how competitive and difficult [UAB’s nurse anesthesia] program is,” Williams-Davis said.

“With the way the program is designed, it is very difficult to have a job and succeed in the program so for us we wanted to help underrepresented students financially so that they could focus all their time and energy on the program,” Thurston said.

This scholarship will support the School’s goal of promoting a diverse student body, which is key to its educational mission, and will be open to students who are in good academic standing and are currently enrolled in or admitted to the Nurse Anesthesia program. Their main goal for this scholarship is to increase diversity within the nurse anesthesia profession by motivating and supporting students who are underrepresented in the field.

“LaDana and I have worked in many hospitals together over the years and we still hear from patients that we are the only Black CRNAs they’ve ever seen and how great it is that they can relate to someone of the same culture and demographic,” Thurston said. “Depending on the literature you read, the percentage of Black CRNAs in the nation is three percent and so anything we can do to help facilitate the matriculation into the program, we will do.”

One of the reasons this scholarship is important to Thurston and Williams-Davis is that they know firsthand how important it is to have diversity throughout nursing and health care.

“It always puts a patient at ease to see people who look like them and identify with them in a hospital because they know that they can relate to them in certain ways that they wouldn’t be able to in other situations,” Williams-Davis said. “Certain demographics use different terminologies so having that diversity among the nurses and nurse anesthetists is important to ensure we are caring for the patient to the best of our abilities.”

Reflecting on their own student experiences, Thurston and Williams-Davis credit their mentors and faculty in the School for keeping them motivated and helping them to be the successful CRNAs they are today.

“I remember having a professor named Dr. Charlie Dickson and wanting to be just like her when I graduated,” Thurston said. “Having those role models that not only inspire you but also look like you is impactful when you never had nursing role models up to that point.”

Williams-Davis had a different path than Thurston, starting at the School later in her life. “I was a late bloomer to UAB. I came from a family that believed in going to work straight out of high school and that just wasn’t the route I wanted to take,” Williams-Davis said. “I luckily met Charlie Cook and her husband Judge Ralph Cook and they said that if I maintained a 3.0 GPA they would financially support me through nursing school and that was the start of my career as a nurse and later a nurse anesthetist.”

Thurston and Williams-Davis serve as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists at UAB Highlands and UAB Hospital, respectively, where they have been for more than 10 years. They hope this scholarship gives deserving nurse anesthesia students the motivation to carve their own paths and to mentor and give back to other underrepresented students.

If you'd like to give to this scholarship, click here.

Last modified on May 18, 2022

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