Jennifer Larson is a 2012 graduate of the joint Gonzaga University/Sacred Heart Medical Center (SHMC) Nurse Anesthetist program. She began her career as a nurse in 2002, returned to school for a graduate degree in 2010, and has been working in the Spokane community, as a provider and a teacher, for the last five years. The work she does—and the passion and commitment she brings to it—are an example of what a powerful difference nurses can make. Ms. Larson was kind enough to have a conversation with us about her experiences.
SNHP: What led you to pursue and Master of Anesthesiology Education?
Jennifer: My first and only nursing job was at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center in the Burn Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Trauma Intensive Care Unit. During the seven years as an ICU RN at Harborview I learned how to care for the most critically ill and injured patients. I soon became a trusted and respected resource to my peers and worked my way into leadership roles on the unit such as preceptor and charge nurse. I have always had a passion for learning, and after seven years as an ICU RN, I decided to pursue an advanced nursing degree. I chose nurse anesthesia as it seemed the most logical step to advance my knowledge of the science in medicine and the art of critical care nursing.
SNHP: Can you tell me about your graduate education at Gonzaga/SHMC?
Jennifer: [I started my program in] January 2010. During the 28-month program I learned in-depth pathophysiology and pharmacology, principles of anesthesia, leadership and adult education principles. I also completed over 2,000 clinical hours providing anesthesia to surgical and obstetrical patients. I learned to become an independent anesthesia provider able to provide a full scope of anesthesia services to patients of all ages. In May 2012, I graduated with honors, passed my national board certification for nurse anesthesia and began work [as a nurse anesthetist].
Anesthesia Education at Gonzaga
Initially housed in Gonzaga’s School of Education (and offered as a Masters of Anesthesiology Education), the program is now housed in the School of Nursing & Human Physiology, where students earn a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice.
SNHP: What do you most enjoy about being a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?
Jennifer: The best part of my career as a CRNA is being able fuse the science of anesthesia medicine to the art of nursing. I find meaning in my work through the human experience and honor of providing compassionate, competent care to people in their most vulnerable situations. At the end of the day, if I had a positive impact on someone’s life, no matter how large or small, I know my work matters and I have contributed to a greater good.
SNHP: You’ve started teaching in addition to practicing as a CRNA. What prompted that?
Jennifer: I have always had a passion for teaching and leading. I like to inspire and encourage others to achieve successes. I love that so called ‘light bulb moment’ when a student finally understands a concept or [masters] a skill. I work with Gonzaga Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Program (DNAP) students in the operating room at Sacred Heart. The best days as a clinical preceptor are when the student walks away with new knowledge and feeling inspired about their future as a nurse anesthetist. Or when a paramedic student lets go of the insecurities of the unfamiliar operating room environment and truly begins to learn, begins the mastery of their life saving airway management skills. I love to watch students become empowered by their knowledge and skill development.
SNHP: How did you come to teach airway management to paramedic students in the Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS) Paramedic Training Program?
Jennifer: Anesthesia providers are traditionally known as the airway experts in the medical field, so when I approached INHS with an offer to teach, they jumped at the opportunity. I teach paramedic students in the classroom setting and I coordinate their airway management clinical rotations in the operating room at Sacred Heart. Airway management is a set of life-saving skills critical to the functional resuscitation and support of injured and critically ill patients. Unsuccessful airway management can quickly spiral to severe neurological compromise and/or death. Paramedics are our first line medical experts and often the first to respond to medical emergencies in our community. It is critical that our paramedics are adept in the timely recognition and management of airway emergencies.
SNHP: Can you tell me about a moment in your professional life where you know you were making a difference?
Jennifer: In my teaching role, I know I am making a difference when students trust me enough to seek me out for advice and learning opportunities. The ultimate reward is when a student I have taught teaches someone else, pays it forward.
As a CRNA, I have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives every day. I walk into a patient’s pre-operative room and within minutes I learn about their most private health histories, tell them I am going to render them unconscious, place a multitude of life-saving tubes in their bodies, maintain them on life-support while a surgeon cuts them open, then wake them up comfortable, safe and satisfied. Surgery is one of the most stressful events people experience and I get the honor of easing their experience through my demeanor, knowledge, and skill as an anesthetist.
Just before I drift people off to sleep I hold their hand and look them in the eye and tell them I will take good care of them. It’s an amazing feeling when they squeeze my hand back and say, “I know you will.” It is a privilege to have the complete and total trust of a stranger. And even better yet, is when they wake up comfortable, safe and satisfied, and say “thank you” with a smile on their face.
“My job matters because I get the opportunity to participate in the human experience on a day to day basis with total strangers. The connectedness to the human spirit is profound.”
SNHP: What did you gain from your education at Gonzaga (beyond technical skills)?
Jennifer: My education at Gonzaga University armed me with the tools and confidence to become a leader in my profession. Not only was I taught how to be a to an excellent CRNA, but my appetite for teaching and leading was fed with first-rate leadership and adult education classes. As a MAE program student, I was given the opportunity to sit as a student member on the Washington Association of Nurse Anesthetists (WANA) Board of Directors. Because of that experience I have continued on as a WANA Board Member over the past 4 years; currently I am the acting secretary. As a board member, I advocate for the collective professional interests of over 700 CRNAs in the state through political advocacy at both the state and federal levels, I help organize continuing education events for CRNAs, and I encourage the professional involvement of current students.
Learn more about Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. Gonzaga University’s rigorous DNAP program admits 10 students per year. More information on our program can be found at our DNAP information page.
Leave a Reply