(Jan. 10, 2003)
The first class of 11 students began their studies in the nurse anesthetist graduate degree program at East Carolina University in January.
According to program director Dr. Maura McAuliffe, ECU plans to admit 12 students each year with enrollment beginning each January.
ECU recently earned accreditation by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs following a two-day site visit last October. The accreditation is effective through May 2005, when the first class will graduate.
"As we near the graduation date of the first students, we will begin a second self-study in preparation for reaccreditation," McAuliffe said. "We're thrilled to be able to create such a quality program that has all of the right resources and support in place. ECU's program has the potential of becoming one of the premier nurse anesthetist educational programs in the country."
The master's degree program is supported through a partnership among ECU, University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and Pitt Anesthesia Associates. This partnership is the key to the program moving from concept to reality, according to Dr. Phyllis Horns, dean of the School of Nursing.
"All three of us were needed in order to make this program work and work well," Horns said. "This partnership provides the right mix of resources and support to make our program a success."
Horns also is complimentary of the support the program is receiving from faculty within other academic departments at ECU. In addition to nursing faculty, instruction is being provided through the ECU Department of Chemistry and the Departments of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology within the Brody School of Medicine.
"Our program is a great example of interdisciplinary teaching," McAuliffe said. "The Institute of Medicine strongly encourages interdisciplinary education among the health sciences disciplines. Our faculty is reflective of this kind of approach."
McAuliffe, a certified registered nurse anesthetist and former CRNA program director at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., was hired in 2001 to lead ECUâ€™s program. Melydia J. Edge, also a CRNA, has joined the program as associate director. ECU plans to add one more faculty member.
Each of the 11 CRNA students have bachelor's degrees in nursing, are licensed as registered nurses and have at least one year of acute-care experience. Students take a core set of courses just as others seeking a master's degree in nursing, along with special anesthesia courses. They graduate with a master's degree in nursing and are then eligible to sit for the national certification exam. The program will take approximately 28 months to complete.
"Iâ€™ve met all of the members of the first class, and each is very well-qualified," Horns said. "They're energetic and excited to be here. We share in their enthusiasm. We know there is a huge need for these professionals in the industry and feel our program will have a positive impact on helping to alleviate the shortage of CRNAs, especially within North Carolina."
North Carolina has approximately 1,200 CRNAs, with 90 percent of them working in hospitals. The average age is 47, with 22 percent being more than 50 years old, according to McAuliffe. Within the next 15 years, many of these CRNAs are expected to retire, further increasing the shortage of trained professionals.
A statewide needs assessment conducted in 1999 predicted a shortfall of 107 CRNAs and 133 vacancies by 2004. As of December, professional recruiting agencies were advertising 63 full-time CRNA positions in North Carolina.
ECU increases the stateâ€™s number of training programs to five, joining programs in Raleigh, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, at Duke University and at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlot