Although it happened over 30 years ago, Henry Talley V, PhD, CRNA, MSN, vividly remembers the day he first met Goldie Brangman, CRNA, MEd, MBA, founder and director of New York City’s Harlem Hospital Center School of Anesthesia for Nurses.
“I was working as a nurse at Harlem Hospital and had met some of Goldie’s students from the anesthesia program,” he says. “I was so impressed with the work they were doing and the way they carried themselves that I immediately went to Goldie’s office to introduce myself and find out how I could enroll in her program.”
Talley remembers Brangman looking at him over the top of her glasses and asking if he understood the responsibilities of a nurse anesthetist. “Goldie is only 5 foot 2 but she always seemed larger than life,” he says. “When I told her I didn’t know much about nurse anesthetists, she told me not to come back until I did. The Internet didn’t exist [back then] so I did research at the library and read everything I could on the topic.”
After Talley completed his re-search, he returned to Brangman’s office. “I must have made an impression on Goldie, because she took the time to speak with me about how I could begin a career in nurse anesthesia,” he says. “I was a real inner city kid from the Bronx. That chance encounter with Goldie helped to save my life and proved to be the beginning of a career that I love.”
Today, Talley is the director of the nurse anesthesia program at Michigan State University College of Nursing and founder of Minority Anesthetists Gathered to Network, Educate and Train (M.A.G.N.E.T.). He is one of many minority CRNAs who credit Brangman with being not only their mentor but a pioneer who blazed new trails of opportunity for nurses of color and men in the field of nurse anesthesia.
An Inspiring Educator
In addition to her many contributions to the nurse anesthesia profession as an educator, author and clinician, Brangman was the first—and so far, only— African American president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), serving from 1973 to 1974. Today, at age 92, she lives on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where she remains active as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. She still attends the AANA’s Annual Meeting and keeps in touch with many of her former students, including Talley.
“Goldie is the greatest mentor any nurse could ever have,” he says. “She instilled confidence and pride in her students and taught us how important it was to become [actively] involved in our profession if we wanted to see change. With Goldie, failure was never an option.”
Talley took his teacher’s words to heart and went on to become the first African American to serve as director of a university nurse anesthesia program. He also plans to run for a national leadership position on the AANA board of directors.
“There are still not a lot of minority nurse anesthetists and I believe that’s due to a lack of awareness about the field,” Talley says. “Goldie encouraged her students to serve as role models. I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps and give back to a profession that’s been very good to me.”
Bobby Turner, a retired CRNA from Louisville, Ky., was one of Brangman’s students in the 1960s. He, too, continues to keep in touch with his former mentor. Turner says he was able to take many of the lessons learned in Brangman’s classroom and apply them in his own career.
“Goldie expected a lot from her students but she was also very supportive of us,” he adds. “She taught us that we needed to make pre-op rounds in addition to the anesthesiologist. Working in pediatrics, I found that introducing myself to children before surgery and talking to them about the procedure helped to ease their fears.”
Brangman also impressed upon her students the importance of becoming involved in the AANA. “I remember Goldie taking her students to the AANA national conference,” Turner says. “Now, even though I’m retired, I continue to attend the conferences every year.”
Finding Her Calling
Goldie Brangman graduated from Harlem Hospital Center’s nursing program in 1943 and went on to accept a nursing job at the hospital. But ironically, she was almost ready to give up on nursing as a career before finding her true calling as a nurse anesthetist.
“Right before World War II began, I had made the decision to leave the nursing profession,” she remembers. “I hated bedside nursing with a passion. At the time, black nurses were asked to do tasks that a white nurse would never have been asked to do.”
When the U.S. entered the war, many of Harlem Hospital’s phys-ician anesthetists were recruited for active duty. To fill the gap, the hospital began seeking volunteers to train as nurse anesthetists.
“The residents and surgeons trained us in all aspects of anesthesia,” Brangman says. “I really enjoyed the work. Unlike many nursing jobs, [in nurse anesthesia] you have a beginning and an end—you put the patients to sleep and you later have the satisfaction of seeing them wake up and begin the recovery process.”
When Harlem Hospital decided to establish a school for nurse anesthetists in 1951, the administration asked her if she would be interested in leading the program. Brangman welcomed the opportunity to open one of the first nurse anesthesia education programs in the country that boasted a diverse student body.
“There weren’t too many schools at the time that admitted blacks, men or students from foreign countries,” she explains. “We would hold dinners each weekend and try different foods representing one of our students’ diverse ethnic backgrounds.”
Because she believes anesthesia is a specialty that can’t be learned solely from a textbook, Brangman encouraged her students to gain real-world experience. “Working in the clinical field isn’t something my students would do only at the completion of the program,” she says. “I stressed the importance of learning how to take the pulse of a real person and of making pre-op rounds where they could introduce themselves to their patients [and get to know them].”
Integrating the AANA
In addition to her many achievements as director of the Harlem Hospital Center School of Anesthesia for Nurses (where she also held the positions of director of continuing education for the departments of anesthesia and respiratory therapy), Brangman was the first African American CRNA to break through barriers of prejudice to become a nationally recognized leader in her field. She was elected president of the New York Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1959 and later served on AANA’s national board of directors—first as treasurer from 1967 to 1969, then as president in 1973-74.
“I was the first woman of color in a leadership position in the AANA, and as a result I had to run for every AANA office at least twice,” Brangman says.
She was also the first AANA president to give a theme to her presidential year, calling it the “Year of Communication.” During her term, she strived to achieve more open and effective communication between the AANA and its members, the public, legislators and other health care organizations. She also brought about some much-needed changes in the association’s organizational structure and management.
“Before my term as president, the AANA had been more [like] a social club,” Brangman says. “I accomplished my goal of making it more of a business.”
She remembers walking into the AANA offices at the beginning of her term and seeing membership dues sitting unopened in a basket. “One of the first things I did was hire a full-time bookkeeper.”
Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Brangman says issues of racial inequality continued to exist in the nursing profession in the 1970s. “There were many times I would look around at the Annual Meeting and see only a sea of white faces. We were able to dramatically increase the number of male anesthetists in the AANA, but racial integration took much longer.
“We had a black CRNA [member] who lived in the South but was only allowed to attend national meetings, not those offered in her state,” Brangman continues. “I remember being asked to speak at a meeting in Alabama in the 1970s. When I walked in the front door of the hotel, almost everyone [just about] had a heart attack. Despite being the only black nurse at many meetings, I was determined to be there.”
Passing the Torch
After completing her presidential term, Brangman continued to provide innovative leadership to AANA in her capacity as past president. She introduced workshops on quality assurance and helped write the first AANA Quality Assurance Manual. In addition, she initiated the introduction of workshops on regional anesthesia (local anesthesia administered to a specific part of a patient’s body) at the AANA Annual Meeting and was one of the first educators to teach regional anesthesia techniques, both in her Harlem Hospital Center anesthesia program and at many state and national AANA meetings.
Today she sees a continued need for more minority nurse anesthetists to follow in her footsteps by taking on leadership roles within the AANA, serving as mentors and encouraging more nurses from underrepresented populations to pursue careers in anesthesia.
“The AANA hasn’t had another president of color since I served,” Brangman points out. “More minority [nurse anesthetists] need to run for leadership positions.”
Fortunately, Brangman’s inspiring presence is motivating a new generation of nurse anesthetists to follow her example of being a visible mentor and giving back to the profession. Nowadays, minority CRNAs such as Talley and Wallena Gould, CRNA, MSN, founder and chair of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program, are carrying on her tradition.
Gould first met Brangman at an AANA meeting in 2003 and now considers her a mentor. “Until I met Goldie I didn’t know the AANA had once had a minority president,” she says. “She’s a true trailblazer and I can’t imagine everything she had to overcome to achieve all of the milestones in her career.
“I was a single mom working as an operating room nurse when I first met a black nurse anesthetist and learned about the profession,” Gould continues. “Several nurse anesthetists of color, including Goldie, had a great impact on my career. I believe it’s important to empower and mentor future minority nursing students through programs such as the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.”
Coming Full Circle
Brangman’s lifelong commitment to increasing opportunities for nurse anesthetists has earned her some of the profession’s highest honors. In 1983 she received the AANA’s Helen Lamb Outstanding Educator Award. The association honored her again in 1995, presenting her with the Agatha Hodgins Award for Outstanding Accomplishment. The award, which bears the name of the AANA’s founder and first president, recognizes individuals “whose foremost dedication to excellence has furthered the art and science of nurse anesthesia.”
Although Brangman left her position as director of the Harlem Hospital Center School of Anesthesia in 1985 and moved to Hawaii to retire, she is still making a difference in people’s lives. Four days each week, she volunteers for eight hours a day as a health consultant to the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross. In many ways, her life has come full circle.
“As a student nurse in the 1940s, I was sent out with a tin can to collect donations for the Red Cross on the streets of New York,” Brangman says. “[When I moved to Hawaii I had planned on just being retired], but instead I was talked into volunteering. I’ve worked with the Red Cross in a number of different capacities for the past 69 years.”