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Release: Immediate

First class of anesthesia nursing program to complete studies

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The first class of Iowa's only continuing program to prepare nurse anesthetists will finish their studies at the University of Iowa College of Nursing Feb. 21.

This first class started the program in the fall of 1994. Since then they've spent countless hours in the classroom and operating room learning from some of the most renowned specialists in their field.

Wayne Ellis, UI assistant professor of nursing, is director of the program. He says the goals of the program are to train anesthesia practitioners for rural areas, to train students to be excellent researchers and to give students a very strong clinical base in their education.

"This is an extremely intense program," Ellis says. "I estimate they spend about 64 hours a week in class or in the operating room."

Students in the program learn all current anesthesia techniques and agents, Ellis says. They also provide care to patients of every age and severity of condition to prepare them for any kind of situation they may face in their future practice options.

Iowa is one of a handful of states that allow nurse anesthetists to practice without supervision. However, students says the program has been flexible enough that they can use their skills on their own or in partnership with an anesthesiologist.

"There are a wide variety of work experiences," says Ann Ryden, a student in the program's first class. "You can work as a team with an anesthesiologist or independently."

Jennifer Crownhart called her education "clinically rich," noting that students graduate with about 1,000 clinical experiences under their respective belts. That is about twice the amount required for certification .

Each student is required to perform two rotations in hospitals or private practices in rural Iowa. A rural rotation in Bloomfield, Iowa led to a permanent position for Valerie McKinley. A resident of Moravia (near Ottumwa), McKinley has been commuting back and forth to the UI for the past two-and-a-half years. Bloomfield is near her home, and she says she's glad for the opportunity to return to her husband and two children permanently.

Despite the hardship of being away from her family during much of the program, McKinley says the program was a good preparation for her new job.

"There are some very challenging cases at the university. The university takes cases other hospitals can't," she says. "It's an excellent preparation for very complex cases. That will assist me in private practice."

Other students in this first class of five are Shannon Pecka and Tara Salrin.

Students complete various month-long rotations in medical specialties like cardiovascular surgery and pediatrics. There is also a required rotation in the obstetrics department of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Medical Center.

The students must also sit for a national certifying examination administered by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Council on Certification of Nurse Anesthetists. At graduation students will receive their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a specialization in anesthesia nursing. The UI program requires a bachelor of science in nursing and one year of critical care nursing before admittance.