School of Nursing is Home to Competitive DNP Program in Nurse Anesthesia   

Kate Vanderford was 15 years old when her neighbor, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), introduced her to her dream job.

She was intrigued by anesthesia, and one day accompanied her neighbor when he went to work at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, N.C.

Vanderford watched in awe as the CRNA eased a patient’s fears only a few minutes after meeting him. She enjoyed everything she saw in the job, from taking patients to the operating room and inducing anesthesia, to monitoring them every second, and then waking them up at the end of a procedure.

“What intrigued me most about anesthesia was the complexity of it,” she said. “But all the while the CRNA was so confident and comforting for the patient. I loved how he was the one who was there with the patient the entire time.”

Nursing Student looking at monitor

Vanderford is now only a few weeks away from graduating from UNC Greensboro and becoming a CRNA herself. She’s a third-year student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) concentration in nurse anesthesia, which has grown in popularity since it found a new home in the UNCG School of Nursing in 2015.

UNCG offers one of only six nursing anesthesia programs in North Carolina. The demanding three-year program, formerly known as the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia/UNCG collaborative program, prepares registered nurses with critical care experience for careers as CRNAs.

Like anesthesiologists, CRNAs work in collaboration with physicians, dentists, and surgeons to provide anesthesia care for patients undergoing procedures.

“It’s not completely nursing. It has an element of being a nurse, first and foremost, but also being somewhat of an internist, applied pharmacologist, and a respiratory therapist wrapped up in one,” said Dr. Nancy Shedlick, program director for the UNCG nurse anesthesia concentration. “You’re taking care of the whole patient while they’re asleep ‒ by yourself.”

Shedlick was one of a dozen students who made up the first class in the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia/UNCG collaborative program in 1990. She later helped oversee the program’s move to UNCG, where all classes have been taught since Fall 2018.

Students working on a mannequin

The consolidated program at UNCG benefits from many teaching and student services available in the School of Nursing and at the University. Anesthesia students take classes and labs in the state-of-the-art Union Square Campus nursing education building and have access to all that UNCG offers.

“The people that go into [nurse anesthesia] are ones that want to advance their careers and really want a lot of autonomy. This is really a way to have that,” said Dr. Linda Stone, a 1993 graduate of the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia/UNCG collaborative program who serves as the assistant program director and a clinical assistant professor. “You’re getting to take care of your patient but also work to the full extent of your licensure and certification, so it’s probably the most rewarding job you can have. I can’t imagine there is one more rewarding than this.”

Eighty-nine students were enrolled in UNCG’s nurse anesthesia program during the Spring 2019 semester. Being admitted to the program – which the North Carolina Board of Nursing governs – has become more competitive as its popularity has increased in recent years. Every successful applicant must have at least one year of training in an intensive care unit, in addition to a bachelor’s degree and a 3.2 GPA, to be considered.

More than 95 percent of the students accepted into the DNP program continue on the track through graduation. They spend three years taking advanced physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology classes along with their clinical rotations.

Two third year students in scrubs

“I can say that the clinical side at the start was the greatest challenge,” said Ethan Rudge, a third-year student who will graduate in August. “However, more time and experience in the operating room definitely make the clinical work easier as you make your way through the program.”

All the training is intended to prepare nursing students to make split-second decisions, because CRNAs must address any issue they encounter while a patient is under their care.

“It’s been everything I thought it would be and so much more,” Vanderford said. “All the time studying ‒ and the exams, projects, DNP deadlines, and new clinical rotations ‒ have been worth it.”


Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing

Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications