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CRNA Program in the West: A Rare Find

CRNA Program in the West: A Rare Find 

by Virginia Rainey


Director of the CRNA program, James Simpson, and students.The map on James Stimpson’s office wall in Westminster’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences tells a story. Red dots indicate locations of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesia (CRNA) programs across the United States. Of the 95 programs currently available, the majority are located east of the Mississippi, with 5 in the Plains/Mountain States and 5 in the West. Until recently, the wide, empty space encompassing Utah and the Intermountain Region had no red dots. That all changed when Westminster launched its long-awaited Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia (MSNA) program in August 2006. Stimpson, the new program’s director, placed a Westminster magnet on the Salt Lake portion of his map to mark the milestone. It looks good there.

Given the demand—CRNAs are the sole providers of anesthesia in more than two-thirds of all rural hospitals nationally, and in 59 percent of Utah’s rural hospitals—Westminster’s program is indeed a welcome and practical addition. The Council on Accreditation, which formally accredits nurse anesthesia education, awarded Westminster College full accreditation on January 19, 2007. Westminster dean of nursing, Dr. Jean Dyer, notes that “Westminster has a long tradition of providing nursing professionals to serve our community. Now we are able to expand the way we support patients, doctors, and the entire medical community in Utah and throughout the region.”

The college has officially welcomed 15 top students to its 30-month program. “These students are critical care nurses,” Stimpson says. “They can pretty much go anywhere and do anything, as they have a wealth of experience (about seven and a half years on average), but they chose to come here to further their education. Most are from Utah, but we have three students from Idaho and one from Colorado, all culled from a pool of highly qualified applicants. I’ve already received calls from nurse recruiters at local hospitals asking when our first class will graduate. [The answer is January 2009.] It’s been a long time coming, but clearly, we are right where we need to be.”

Stimpson emphasizes that Dr. Dyer is the driving force behind the program. “From the time she arrived on campus in 2004, she has done an amazing amount of work—with the full backing of our president, provost, nursing advisory board, and many supporters—to develop the MSNA curriculum, identify clinical sites, and initiate the accreditation process,” he says.

Westminster’s program is designed to give students experience in both urban and rural settings. “Anesthesia is typically a team effort at large urban hospitals,” Stimpson explains. “It’s really the safest way because you have more than one set of eyes and ears focused on each patient. When you step into a rural hospital or clinic where you are the only anesthetist on site, the stress level shoots way up, as you might imagine. You don’t have a back-up, and you need to be skilled in every phase of anesthesia. You don’t always have someone to confer with. We prepare nurses to be completely confident in either setting.”

Stimpson, a practicing CRNA, was most recently the Chief Nurse Anesthetist at Ogden Regional Medical Center in Ogden, Utah, and has his own practice, founded in 2004. He has a Master of Anesthesiology Education from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and is experienced in several sub-specialties, including obstetrical and pediatric anesthesia, neurosurgery, and cardiothoracic surgery. He was drawn to the profession when he was working as a registered nurse at Hill Air Force Base and says, “I love what I do, and I love the fact that I can continue to practice. My job at Westminster is to make sure our curriculum meets all the requirements of our council on accreditation. Our goal is not just to meet the minimum, but to exceed
expectations. We are certainly on track to do that.”


Former Utah State Senator Paula Julander, a registered nurse and passionate nurse advocate, says she remembers “…the day we had no rural pharmacies and nurse practitioners would travel all night to meet a pharmacist to get a drug that was going to save somebody’s life.” Today, she says, “Rural area hospitals still have so many needs—including a critical need for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs).” Now that Westminster has launched Utah’s first Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia (MSNA) program, “and it’s been a long time coming,” says Julander, “we can begin to fill regional needs from within the state. Westminster is one of the crown jewels of Salt Lake and has had a quality nursing program for a long time, and they’ve done their homework,” she says. “It’s an ideal home for this program.” Julander serves as a member of the School of Nursing’s advisory board. 


Westminster has created a win-win situation with its new onsite Student Health Services clinic. Opened in fall 2006, the small clinic is managed by nursing student Jennifer Bainum and staffed by students in the MSN nurse practioner program supervised by nurse practitioner faculty. “In addition to providing a much-needed onsite health care option for students, the clinic offers our nursing students an opportunity to see a healthy college-age population—something they don’t always see in other clinical settings,” notes nurse practitioner Jennifer Stock. “And the setting allows us to really work one-on-one with our nursing students as we discuss each client’s needs.”

The clinic, which is currently open two days a week, treats its share of coughs and colds; but it also works to promote wellness by providing immunizations, physical exams, allergy shots, and a lot more. Nurses also collaborate with the college’s counseling staff when appropriate. As a non-profit, Westminster has partnered with Globus Relief for supplies, so the college has been able to furnish the clinic and provide vaccines and medications at cost. With an affordable $10 fee for each office visit, the clinic appeals to both residential and commuting students.