Nurse Anesthesia Remembers Distance Learning Advocate

VCU Nurse Anesthesia is mourning the loss of Rachel Davis Fowlkes, who sparked the department’s movement into distance learning almost two decades ago. Fowlkes died in early April in Abingdon, Va.

Rachel FowlkesAs founding director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), she was witnessing rural hospitals shutting down and others facing similar risks because they didn’t have the support – including anesthesia services – to provide surgical care, which plays a significant role in their financial under footing. With the center supported by a host of state leaders, Fowlkes contacted Cecil Drain, PhD, RN, CRNA, then-dean of the VCU College of Health Professions.

“Rachel wanted to know what she could do to get the department to bring our Nurse Anesthesia program to Southwest Virginia,” said Beverly George-Gay, DNP, MS, MSN, director of distance education. “She was so supportive, by offering space to house the program and helping us secure a grant to get our first distance learning site operational. Rachel was the impetus for us to move in this direction.”

Michael D. Fallacaro, Ph.D., who chaired VCU Nurse Anesthesia at the time, oversaw development of the new distance learning curriculum and worked with Fowlkes on building out program space within the SVHEC. In 2004, the Abingdon site – outfitted with a high-tech simulation lab – enrolled its first students, who graduated as CRNAs two years later. Experiences and learnings from that location shaped the opening of subsequent sites in Roanoke and Northern Virginia, making nurse anesthesia education more available statewide.  

Fulfilling Fowlkes’ vision in bringing the VCU program to the region, most Southwest Virginia CRNA graduates practice in their community and support the local healthcare needs and economy. Many have advanced into leadership roles, and several are teaching future practitioners.

Fowlkes’ support continued long after the first students walked into the Abingdon site.

“Rachel would travel to Richmond to watch the students graduate,” George-Gay said. “She kept up with many of the students: She knew who they were, where they lived and even some of their family members.”

Read Fowlkes’ obituary here.

A ‘living legend’ in nurse anesthesia education who gave all to family and nation

By Jeff Kelley

Like many in the greatest generation, 15-year-old Herb Watson claimed to be 18 in order to enlist in the U.S. Navy. From 1944 to 1946, he served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II from the relative safety of a naval warship.

Herb in Navy uniform April 1944 age 15That was not the case more than two decades later in Vietnam, where, then in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a flight medic on C-130s airlifting injured and dying soldiers to hospitals. Over 500 missions, he saw the worst of the conflict’s combat during his 1967-68 deployment.

“It was horrible, just horrible. Some things he couldn’t even talk about,” recalled Watson’s daughter, Val Caldwell. “But he had the disposition for it, a good disposition, to be able to walk the walk. He was an extraordinary human being.”

Over a highly decorated 21-year service in the Air Force, Watson traversed the globe with his wife of 66 years, Beverly, and two daughters. He retired from the military in 1977 with the rank of colonel and went on to lead a prestigious career that set the foundations for nurse anesthesia education in America, retiring as chair of the VCU Department of Nurse Anesthesia in 1994. Col. Watson died on March 7 at the age of 94.

“Herb was a living legend in the profession,” says Michael D. Fallacaro, Ph.D, CRNA, professor emeritus at VCU who became department chair in 1998.

A personal quest to improve nurse anesthesia education

The second of four boys, Herbert Thomas Watson was born May 17, 1928 in Ovid, N.Y. in the state’s Finger Lakes region. After WWII, he earned a nursing degree in 1950. Six years later, he was commissioned to the Air Force and began a military career that, among other honors, awarded him the Legion of Merit, given to members “who have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.”

If service to the nation was his calling, nurse anesthesia education was his passion. Watson graduated in 1958 from Texas’ Brooke Army Medical Center School of Nurse Anesthesia. Over the next 13 years, he’d earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Syracuse University and master’s in nursing education from Columbia University.

Herb in Air Force uniformWhile serving as a senior consultant to the U.S. Air Force surgeon general, Watson drafted a plan for preserving the role of the nurse anesthetist by linking it to a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia. Col. Watson took his quest to VCU, where his vitae earned him the chairmanship of the department.

There, he formed the specialty’s first postgraduate master’s degree in 1979. At that time, most nurse anesthetists were simply certified to administer such medications, or held bachelor’s degrees.

“But the master’s was something way out in the future,” Fallacaro says. The profession’s accrediting body didn’t require a master’s degree until 1998. “He was certainly a visionary in that regard,” Fallacaro says.

In 1979, Watson founded Nurse Anesthesiology Faculty Associates, a continuing education business that he ran as a family affair with Beverly and daughters, who would handle the registration table at conferences. In 1981, VCU graduated the first students in the nation to earn an M.S. in Nurse Anesthesia.

“His goal was to run a school of anesthesia, and he achieved it,” Val says. “The Air Force groomed him for the job at VCU,” she said, while noting the sacrifice of his Vietnam service: “He paid a price to get to Richmond.”

Under Watson’s leadership, the department gained national recognition as a leader among nurse anesthesia educational programs. Today, VCU is ranked no. 1 in the nation for nurse anesthesiology graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report.

“Over the years, as an educator of nurse anesthetists, I have used the word ‘Anesthesiology’ freely as it applies to the study of the science of anesthesia within the framework of graduate education. The rationale being that vocational training no longer applies to the educational preparation of the nurse anesthetist,” Watson said in 1975.

Gave family ‘a full life’

“As much as people liked him at work, he had a great home life,” Val says. She and her younger sister by 13 months, Karen Brown, moved around a lot as kids — from New York to Florida, Texas, California, France, back to New York, to Oregon, again to Florida, again to New York, Alabama, Texas — and finally, Virginia. “Our lives were so full,” Val says. “We loved moving. We weren’t the one new girl in town, we were two new girls in town. It was just a dream. We had the best experiences.”

On retirement from the Air Force, Watson was serving at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas before landing the job at VCU in what was then the School of Allied Health and Sciences at West Hospital. (Today, the school is known as the College of Health Professions).

Herb and Bev

In Richmond, Watson and his wife built a home in Henrico County’s West End. Val describes her mom as the one who “kept the family’s social life together,” as Watson was so focused on building the nurse anesthesia program, studying, teaching, and running NAFA. “They were a perfect combination,” Val says.

The later years

After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-2000s, Watson stepped in as a full-time caregiver. “He took care of her until the bitter end,” Fallacaro says. “It was a heroic thing.” Beverly died in 2011.

In that time, Watson also approached Fallacaro to take over NAFA. Fallacaro, who joined the department in 1998, wasn’t interested in becoming an entrepreneur, but pitched the idea of bringing NAFA under the VCU umbrella.

Fallacaro’s implication was to sell NAFA to VCU. But Watson instead gifted the enterprise to the university in 2007, a deal that Fallacaro believes would have been a seven-figure sale of the business. Watson then showed Fallacaro the ropes of running a company.

Herb and Mike Fallacaro“He really took me under his wing,” Fallacaro says. “We traveled to several different places together, and he treated me like his own son, he really did. He took me into his confidence, he showed me the books, he showed me how to run everything. He really mentored me well.” Fallacaro would hire a small staff, but most financial resources went toward travel and equipment to support nurse anesthesia graduate students and continuing education for certified registered nurse anesthetists.

In October 2012, Watson made a donation to the department that created the Herbert T. Watson Endowed Professorship; Fallacaro was its first recipient. He was succeeded by Suzanne Wright, Ph.D., CRNA and the title is currently held by VCU’s Nickie Damico, Ph.D., CRNA.

In 2005, Watson was honored with an appointment by the VCU Board of Visitors as emeritus professor. He continued to attend NAFA meetings into his later years, sitting quiet and attentive in the front row, despite no longer teaching or practicing. Fallacaro recalls once asking him why he still showed up to the meetings.

“He said, ‘As a retired Air Force colonel, I could be called back at any time. And if they call me back, I want to be ready,’” Fallacaro recalls. “And he was sincere about it. This man still wanted to serve even in his late years. You just don’t find that in a lot of people.”

“He laid such a good foundation for us to build upon,” he said. “I will miss him terribly.”

Adds Val: “I don’t know who groomed my dad along the way, but they did a good job. He was self-made. He just had the right personality and married the right person. He’ll be deeply missed.”

Watson is survived by his daughters and their spouses, three grandchildren, and a great grandson. Alongside Beverly, Col. Watson will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on July 5 at 11 a.m.

Read Col. Watson’s full obituary.

Faculty Lead at NoVa Campus Embraces Clinical Teaching

by Kyra Newman

Crystal O’Guin’s wife had a lifelong dream to be a CRNA. O’Guin had her own personal dream: to become a college professor.

Crystal OGuin standing in a morrocan doorwaySo when her spouse, Mary Day, went back to school, O’Guin provided educational support. “I started digging into Mary’s books and materials to help her, and I loved it,” O’Guin said. “The curriculum was so phenomenally interesting, and that opened a path for me to nurse anesthesia.”

Fifteen years after entering the nursing profession in 2001, O’Guin, DNP, MSN (Ed), CRNA, completed her advanced education to become a nurse anesthetist. Two years later, she joined the Georgetown University faculty, where she was a classroom and lab-based clinical instructor.

And last August, O’Guin arrived at VCU Nurse Anesthesia, where she is an assistant professor and the primary faculty member at the Northern Virginia campus. The move was a perfect fit for shifting from research to clinical teaching, not to mention grow into leadership roles – a topic she’d been discussing with VCU chair Nicole Damico, PhD, CRNA, FAANA, CSHE, since first meeting at a conference several years ago. “Coming to the No. 1 program in the country was certainly attractive,” she said, “but the overall role aligned with my vision.”

Practicing in a real-world environment

In early 2023, the Northern Virginia site opened its new campus at the Poplar Run office building (just north of the I-95/495/395 interchanges), down the street from its prior location. The centerpiece is a comprehensive human simulation lab, where faculty create virtual operating room settings for students to practice common skills like spinal epidurals and airway management.

At its previous location, the lab functioned out of shared space, so “students really didn't get that true feeling of what to expect in a real operating room,” O’Guin said. “Now, from the control room behind a mirrored observation wall, we can give students a fully simulated experience without having faculty present in the room. We offer real-time feedback and do true debriefings with students after, which gives them the feeling that they’re practicing in a real-world setting.”

Also, having a second multimedia classroom opens up avenues for concurrent learning or breakout sessions, as well as CE offerings. Dedicated office space means O’Guin can easily meet one-on-one with students, who are taking advantage of new study space. With more space, the site can grow, which is important due to the volume of qualified applicants in the area.

Meeting students where they want to be

VCU Nurse Anesthesia is focusing on diversifying its student body, and the Northern Virginia location has access to a broader cross-section of populations and critical care nurses who have urban health experience. “Their high acuity comes from serving in the Metro D.C. area or even traveling experience,” O’Guin said.

As with every site, many students come from three years on COVID-19’s front lines, which escalated their skills. “I’ve never seen students with this consistent level of experience, which is an unintended consequence of COVID,” she added.

But those experienced students also bring higher expectations, which the program is meeting with student-centered experiences. The faculty are listening to and incorporating student feedback to further define the excellence of the VCU program.

“We’re striving to give all students an equitable experience, not only in the classroom but in the clinical setting as well,” she said, calling out initiatives such as podcasts for career skills and deepening integrated instruction across sites. “We want our students to feel a sense of belonging across the program.”

For example, O’Guin this semester unveiled a hybrid approach to teaching advanced principles. In the past, when students sat in four classroom locations, getting them to interact was tough. Now, students join individually by Zoom to discuss case scenarios and actions, finding chances to communicate equally.

And they’re speaking up more and using the chat feature to share comments. “Students also are happy because they’re participating from home instead of having to drive long commutes to their sites,” she added. “With the hybrid program, we’re still coming back together and meeting face-to-face at specific intervals.”

Marrying practice and teaching

At VCU, O’Guin can continue her studies into perioperative arrest and crisis resource management, which aligns with other department research and opens up instruction across the College of Health Professions. To note, O’Guin can recreate high-risk, low-frequency emergencies in the sim lab, where success might rely on action beyond the operating room. Suppose a patient has massive blood loss. That involves working with the lab to prepare products for transfusions, and that interaction across functional issues can drive interdisciplinary education to the next level.

“I tell everybody that I get paid to read textbooks for a living; I'm a big nerd and I love to prepare lectures,” O’Guin said. “But the best day is when I’m working with the students, and you see them learning a new skill in the Sim Lab. Say, you’re watching a student struggle to intubate for the first time, but then you share a small trick that makes the difference between success and failure. You see their confidence build.”

VCU faculty must continue practicing, which enriches classroom and hands-on instruction. “Anesthesia evolves all the time,” said O’Guin, who takes monthly shifts at a plastic surgery center and a busy ambulatory surgery center, caring for adult and pediatric patients.

“When we can operationalize the new technology and drugs that come out, it makes us a lot more relevant,” she says. “When I intentionally tell these stories and include key concepts that I’m trying to get across, student learning and retention is better because they are more engaged.”

Crystal OGuin with two camels in the desert sunsetWhen not teaching, researching or practicing, O’Guin likely is across the globe, then coming home to master ethnic cuisines she explored on the road. She recently returned from Thailand and repacked her bags for Morocco. O’Guin and May seek out locales where they can observe animals in the wild – including orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees.

“I love animal behavior because to me it explains human behavior a lot of times,” she added. “I would say I’m definitely an armchair primatologist.”

Study: Eliminating GRE in Admissions Drives Diversity

By Kyra Newman

Eliminating the requirement of the standardized GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test and shifting to more holistic admissions review process is helping to diversify the pool of students entering the VCU Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) program.

But could it benefit all graduate programs – not merely nurse anesthesia?

That shift is supported by a review of the literature that analyzed the impact of the GRE, typically required for entry into graduate school, on nurse anesthesia admissions. The study team, which included VCU Nurse Anesthesia faculty, resulted in recommendations for all programs to remove the GRE and expand practices that better gauge a student’s potential for success.

As implemented at VCU, holistic review processes include consideration of academic accomplishments, diverse experiences and individual attributes.

“Our publication argued that the GRE doesn’t test for the skills and knowledge required to be a successful nurse anesthetist. Marginalized nurses are directly and adversely impacted by mandated GRE exams, and many are not invited for an interview based on this one criterion,” said Jiale “Gary” Hu, PhD, RN, FAAN, assistant professor and director of research and global outreach at VCU Nurse Anesthesia. “GRE minimum scores as a criterion for admission denial or acceptance may powerfully contribute to cohorts lacking diversity.”

Jiale Gary Hu (left) and Nicole Damico (right)
Jiale Gary Hu (left) and Nicole Damico (right)

Hu and Nicole Damico, PhD, CRNA, CHSE, FAANA, chair of the VCU Department of Nurse Anesthesia, are among the co-authors of “Addressing Structural and Systemic Barriers in Nurse Anesthesia Programs: Recommendations to eliminate the GRE and adopt holistic admissions,” recently published in Nursing Outlook. Colleagues from Duke University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program joined them in researching and writing the journal article.

Ranked as the No. 1 graduate program in nurse anesthesia by U.S. News & World Report, VCU Nurse Anesthesia strongly promotes holistic admission review and is conducting multiple research projects on the GRE-removal initiative. The Department removed the GRE from admissions requirements in 2021, with first-time Nursing Certification Examination (NCE) pass rates registering at 91%. In the first admission application cycle following this change, there was a 40% increase in the overall number of applications to the DNAP program at VCU, and the program enrolled its largest cohort to date.

The researchers pinpointed three barriers created by the GRE requirement:

  • GRE scores have stronger correlations with race, gender, and socioeconomic status than academic performance and prediction of future career success.
  • Many students from marginalized populations lack access to the test for reasons including high costs associated with the GRE preparation, study, and testing, inconvenient testing locations and time, as they often are balancing multiple jobs or lack reliable transportation.
  • The GRE guideline also strongly suggests using multiple sources of information from students rather than GRE minimum scores during the admission decision-making

Currently, among the nation’s 59,000 CRNAs, less than 12% identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islanders or Native Americans. “The lack of diverse anesthesia professionals may contribute towards health disparities, racial biases in pain management, and inadequate pain management services in communities of color,” the paper states.

“The GRE is a barrier for applicants who don’t even consider any program that requires that test. But removing that test is only part of an effective strategy to broaden diversity in our profession,” said Damico, also the Herbert T. Watson Endowed Professor. “At VCU, we’re augmenting this recent shift in our admissions practices with greater outreach to meet these prospective students where they are.”

Damico and Wallena Gould, first author of the journal article and founder of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program, as well as co-author Edwin Aroke will present the research and findings at the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology Assembly of Didactic and Clinical Educators on Feb. 25.

Serving Our Students in a Post-Pandemic World

Nicole Damico Nicole Damico, PhD, CRNA, CHSE, FAANA
Herbert T. Watson Endowed Professor
Department Chairperson, Associate Professor, Nurse Anesthesia

With every week, we see more signs of a return to our daily practices before COVID-19 upended our lives. Even though caseloads continue to decline, except for an occasional variant-driven spike, we haven’t completely returned to our previous ways of doing things.

And we don’t plan to. As in life, we’re evolving VCU Nurse Anesthesia with the lessons we’ve taken from the pandemic.

These years helped us recognize that some of those in-the-moment changes could reshape the academic experience – from our instructional model to student and faculty mental health and wellness, an issue that has taken on deeper meaning over the past three years.

Let’s first look at the Nurse Anesthesia curriculum, and how we engage our students, might evolve. Even though our program was an early VCU pioneer in using distance learning and creating a hybrid learning environment, the pandemic forced nearly all programs to recreate classroom instruction in a virtual environment. It was a major disruption at that moment, but, over time, students found they enjoyed the convenience afforded by not being required to come into the classroom.

Of course, lecture-style classes lend themselves more readily to a virtual experience. And over time, attending class from the kitchen table or screened-in porch became second nature. So as we moved closer to today’s near-normalcy, many students told us they didn’t want to return to fully in-person learning — to save, in particular, commute times.

Still, the heart of a Nurse Anesthesia degree is mastering the skills required in the operating room. You need the in-person experiences of the simulation labs and clinical rotations. Nothing in a virtual setting comes close to replicating hands-on learning under the watchful eye of professors, who can confirm when students are making the right choices or ask questions to identify mistakes before a human life is put at risk.

So while simulation will always be in-person, we are looking across our DNAP program to determine opportunities to best meet our students where they are while balancing the demands of the doctoral program.

The type of students we’re attracting also is changing. While in the past, we saw nurses planning for strategic career growth, today we’re seeing more applicants coming straight to us from overcrowded ICUs and short-staffed hospitals.

Provider burnout is real. These students were working extra shifts for months on end, with no time to ease their burdens or clear their minds before they walked in our doors.

Again, we return to the issue of meeting students where they are – in this case, we’re talking about their overall well-being, which has never been a more important part of supporting students during their time at VCU. This is a national conversation with and about our healthcare providers. Consider our just-graduated class: Their entire training occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. They came to us with an emphasis on wellness, because it was very proximal to them.

Already, we’ve launched two initiatives under that umbrella, and we’re offering stand-alone services and integrating important themes across the curriculum. In our student wellness track, we’re teaching students more about stress management and general self-care within the healthcare profession. We are working to augment our instructional bench, a challenge made even tougher due to a national faculty shortage.

Helping to shape our future direction will be our three new student committees.

  • The Simulation Committee is exploring how we can enhance and broaden our offerings, which is a key goal of mine for this year; a pilot project is underway.
  • The Wellness Committee is curating resources, activities, and speakers on related topics to give students healthy options as they navigate their coursework. A fun program last fall was a 10K running event that also contributed to fellowship among students and faculty.
  • The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is building a mentoring program with alumni and expanding its mission to support and grow our minority students.

Our recent decision to eliminate the GRE as an admissions requirement should help to broaden our applicant pool, so we’ll look closely at our numbers later this spring. For now, we’re excited to share that we’ve just started our largest cohort – with 61 students in the etpDNAP, 42% of whom are non-white students. Our application numbers jumped 40% during the 2022 cycle, and we anticipate another large pool of applicants this year.

Finally, I want to thank the ongoing community support of our program, particularly two recent generous gifts:

  • The Addie Pontiflet scholarship, which honors a former faculty member who died in 2007, will help us recruit and support students with demonstrated interest in equality, diversity or social justice for the African American community through community activities, social groups, student clubs or organizations. We also will look for recipients who are engaged in internal and professional DEI initiatives.
  • The Stephen Lunsford Endowment, established by his widow, Lynne LaVasseur, to celebrate his career. Lunsford trained as a Navy Corpsman, then served as a nurse anesthetist who practiced across the country before settling in Lynchburg.

Gifts such as these help our department continue to meet the latest demands of our practice and our students. We appreciate each dollar pledged to VCU Nurse Anesthesia, and we work in partnership with our donors to invest these funds strategically to generate the greatest impact. Please visit our giving site to learn more.

Thank you for your continued support of VCU Nurse Anesthesia and our mission to train tomorrow’s CRNAs to keep our patients safe.

Old Dominion University Nursing Announces Interim Dean, nurse anesthesia alum Suzanne Wright, to Lead School

Suzanne Wright assumed the new role of interim dean of the School of Nursing on Jan. 25. Wright, who joined ODU in 2021 as chair of the School of Nursing, previously served as a full professor and in leadership positions at Virginia Commonwealth University for nearly 20 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia and a Ph.D. in health-related sciences from VCU.

Read more about Suzanne Wright's appointment to interim dean at ODU.

Two faculty at CHP selected as American Academy of Nursing fellows

Four faculty members from Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions and School of Nursing will receive one of the most prestigious honors in nursing this fall when they are inducted as fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.

The faculty members were among 250 nurse leaders selected to join the academy’s 2022 class of fellows. The inductees will be recognized for their significant contributions to health and health care at the academy’s annual Health Policy Conference, set for Oct. 27-29.

The VCU CHP faculty to be inducted this year are: 

  • Stephan Davis, DNP, the executive director of inclusive leadership education and assistant professor in the Department of Health Administration and assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College of Health Professions. Davis is a registered nurse, a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, fellow of the National Academies of Practice and a fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
  • Jiale (Gary) Hu, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of research and global outreach in the Department of Nurse Anesthesia at the College of Health Professions. Hu is a registered nurse.

Read more about the four VCU faculty selected as fellows on VCU News.

Dreaming Big: Amber Coleman ’18 Building a Brand Beyond the OR

Amber Coleman standing in front of anesthesia equipmentGraduate, pass the National Certification Exam, get certified, practice as a CRNA.

It’s a path to success and personal and professional advancement for many VCU Nurse Anesthesia graduates. Yet Amber Coleman, a 2018 alumna, simply had a different path in mind.

Since gaining certification (“That test is expensive, so I was only doing it once”), she’s practiced as a CRNA at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. And while passionate about anesthesia and building her specialty, she also views it as a stepping stone: to mentoring others in the field, to writing books, to building businesses, and to showing her two currently young children how to build a solid foundation in their own lives.

Coleman recently self-published a children’s book, Amber Dreams of Anesthesia. The story mirrors her own journey: a young girl receives a birthday gift, the game “Operation,” and becomes fascinated with the human body. The cartoon Amber begins to explore healthcare, looking up “people who help you feel comfy during surgery” on a tablet and coming across the anesthesia specialty (in real life, kid Amber was looking through a set of old encyclopedias when she stumbled across the word “anesthesiologist,” and she never turned back).

In the book, the young Amber falls asleep and into a deep dream about becoming a nurse anesthetist. Readers pick up a simple education on the path to becoming a CRNA and many of the ways in which they provide care – such as for obstetrics, or in general surgery.

“This book is about planting a seed in kids early,” Coleman says. “They don’t have to do to anesthesia or even go into healthcare. It’s just about having a dream, coming up with a plan, and doing it.”

Coleman is clear that while the book is not specifically aimed at young Black and Brown readers, but rather all children, she hopes it resonates with those in communities of color, which are underrepresented in healthcare jobs. “Representation matters, and I do have a responsibility as a woman of color to help those who look like me blaze a trail in the field,” she said.

Coleman paused her career as an ICU nurse in 2016 to pursue her nurse anesthesia education at VCU. She and her husband and then two very young children relocated from Hampton to Richmond. He commuted to work in Newport News. They had no family in the area to support them at the time, “but we made it work.” The VCU experience, Coleman says, changed her life, and gave her the foundation for a stable and rewarding career path.

Coleman is also one of 10 alumni heading up the Addie Pontiflet Scholarship at VCU Nurse Anesthesia. Pontiflet, who died in 2007, was an assistant professor of nurse anesthesia at VCU. The annual award will be given to students with preference in those who have demonstrated interest in equality, diversity or social justice for the African American community through community activities, social groups, student clubs or organizations. The scholarship also asks that students show active membership and involvement in professional nurse anesthesia-oriented organizations and activities that focus on racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion, and serve on the VCU Nurse Anesthesia’s DEI committee.

Amber C Book“The candidate has to be passionate,” Coleman says. “I don't care if you mentor or if you go into education, you have to be willing to give back.”

Beyond the book, she’s partnered with her brother to start a trucking company. She’s writing a second children’s book on financial literacy. And she and her husband dabble in real estate investing, too.

And most importantly — balancing the work of a CRNA, part-time author, entrepreneur, and investor — Coleman is sure to make time for their two children, aged 9 (girl) and 7 (boy).

How does she handle it all? “You have to balance and be passionate about it. Find your passion, be positive, make a plan, and remain persistent,” she says. “With these steps you are guaranteed to succeed and along the way elevate others.”

“Like I tell our kids: ‘Dream big.’ ”

For more on Amber or to purchase her book, visit her website.

Give to the Addie Pontiflet Scholarship.

Visit VCU Nurse Anesthesia’s Giving page and be sure to select “Addie Pontiflet Scholarship” in the drop-down menu.

Research program promotes implementation of crisis resource management principles in anesthesia

VCU Nurse Anesthesia begins research to understand, promote implementation of crisis resource management principles in anesthesia practice 

The VCU Department of Nurse Anesthesia is starting a research program with their academic and clinical collaborative partners to understand and promote the implementation of crisis resource management principles in anesthesia practice. The research program has been funded by the state grant of Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA), Helene Fuld Health Trust National Institute, and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Foundation.  

The practice of anesthesia is complex and dynamic, and the decisions taken by anesthesia professionals are associated with various risks, many of which cannot be anticipated and may lead to adverse patient outcomes. Crisis resource management plays an important role in delivering safe and effective patient care. The overall purpose of these funded projects is to understand and promote the implementation of crisis resource management principles in anesthesia practice.

Medical error has been identified as one of the leading causes of patient adverse outcomes or even deaths in the country. Multiple studies found more than 80 percent of medical errors are related to non-technical skills (i.e., cognitive and interpersonal behaviors) of health care professionals. Crisis resource management (CRM) is a set of non-technical skills needed to effectively manage all available resources at hand to execute the care as planned and respond to problems that arise.

Since 1999, the VCU CHP Department of Nurse Anesthesia has provided a simulation-based CRM training program to more than 700 nurse anesthesia graduate students and more than 70 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists in the Center for Research in Human Simulation and provided six onsite CRM simulation training workshops to interprofessional perioperative teams in Virginia health institutes.

Northam Visits Nurse Anesthesia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday, along with leaders at Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health, stressed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and of training frontline health care workers in remarks made to reporters during a visit to VCU’s College of Health Professions.

Northam, M.D., received an in-depth tour of the college’s eight-story facility that included stops in the departments of Health Administration, Occupational TherapyNurse AnesthesiaRadiation Sciences and Medical Laboratory Sciences. He also observed some of the research taking place in Physical Therapy while meeting students, faculty and staff. Susan Parish, Ph.D., dean of the college, Arthur Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System, and members of the dean’s office accompanied Northam during his visit.

“[Frontline health workers] are doing amazing work and to be able to train individuals that will go into the workforce is so important,” Northam said. “We found during COVID-19 how difficult this work is, day in and day out. People did an amazing job, not only in Virginia, but across this country. I commend all of our health providers across Virginia for doing the good work, and keeping Virginians as safe as we can.”

During the tour, Northam and Parish spoke about the college’s strong reputation, increased enrollment and nationally-ranked programs. Additionally, Parish said the opening of the building in 2019 allowed the college to increase its capacity for educating future health care professionals.

“Truly, the excellence of our college and its programs is because of the integration we enjoy with the VCU Health System,” Parish said. “The college has shown courage and professionalism throughout times of uncertainty, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished.”

Nurse Anesthesia and Radiation Sciences collaboration strives for having nuclear medicine technologists add to the vaccine giving capacity within the US


L. Harold Barnwell                                                                           Mark Crosthwaite


 Harold Barnwell, III, DNAP, CRNA, of the Department of Nurse Anesthesia, and Mark H. Crosthwaite, CNMT, FSNMMI-TS, of the Department of   Radiologic Sciences, partnered on  "TSCOVID-19 Vaccination: An Overview and Education Tool for Nuclear Medicine Technologists."  The article appears in the March 2021 issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology.

Read the full article here.