Unfortunately, racism and gender inequality still exist not only in our country at large, but also in the nursing field. Because she saw this in anesthesia, Wallena Gould, EdD, CRNA, FAAN, founded and is the CEO of Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.
Gould took time to answer our questions. What follows is our interview, edited for clarity and length.
The homepage of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program (DNAMP) states that only 11% of nurse anesthetists are people of color. Why is that? Why hasn’t there been more diversity in these positions?
Honestly, it stems back from decades of graduate nurse anesthesia programs accepting all white cohorts with only one or two nurses of color in each cohort. Also, contributing to the lack of diversity in the nurse anesthesia profession is the historical treatment of Black nurses at the turn of the century. In the early 1900s, until late 1940s, professional nursing associations did not include members of color just based on race. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), founded in 1931, included Black CRNAs into the membership in 1944.
In addition, nursing schools including nurse anesthesia programs were segregated until the late 1940s. One of the historical nurse anesthesia programs that consistently accepted diverse cohorts with faculty that mirrored the community since the Jim Crow Era was the Harlem School of Anesthesia founded by Goldie Brangman, CRNA, MEd, MBA. Founded in New York City in 1951, it lasted for 36 years. Brangman would later become the first and only Black Nurse Anesthetists who was elected as President of the AANA in 1973.
The emergence of diverse nurse anesthesia faculty started in the 1990s and has increased in small increments in the 124 graduate programs. In addition, contributing to the 11% of Nurse Anesthetists of color, is the lack of exposure or encouragement for nursing students of color to pursue Nurse Anesthesia at Historical Black Colleges & Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribunal American Indian Nursing Schools.
There is also gender inequality in nurse anesthetists. Does this mean that more nurse anesthetists are male than female? If so, why does this disparity exist? What has caused it?
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists 2018 Profile Survey of Nurse Anesthetists, there were 52,000 CRNAs in the country with 59% of female and 41% male providers. Male nurse anesthetists were accepted into the membership in the 1950s, into what was a predominantly female profession. There was a stigma of male nurses in the profession from 1950s—2000s.
Today, more men are entering the profession, but still have a majority of female nursing school cohorts. Also, men are pursuing more specialized careers such as nurse anesthesia with the addition of military male nurses entering the profession.
Why did you establish DNAMP? What did you want to accomplish?
As a nurse anesthesia student enrolled in La Salle University in Philadelphia, I had an individual class assignment in the form of a poster project. My focus was to find out the racial and ethnic composition of the nurse anesthesia profession. In addition, I noticed that the six nurse anesthesia programs in the Philadelphia area did not have one full-time faculty teaching in the programs and only a few students of color in each program.
I was able to retrieve demographic statistics from the AANA and polled the Philadelphia nurse anesthesia students from each program. The data from the national statistics mirrored the Philadelphia programs, which demonstrated a severe lack of diversity in nurse anesthesia.
I approached one of our faculty members who taught regional anesthesia, the late Dr. Arthur Zwerling, DNP, CRNA, DAAPM, about my poster and my urge to do something about it. Dr. Zwerling encouraged me to attend the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Annual Conference in Boston. As a senior nurse anesthesia student, I attended the conference as suggested.
On the first day of the conference, I met Goldie Brangman, CRNA, MEd, MBA (retired), spoke with her for a moment, and knew my purpose was going to make attempts to achieve diversity and equity in the profession.
Today, the non-profit organization, Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program has mentored more than 510 nurses of color to successfully matriculate into 74 graduate nurse anesthesia programs. We are able to extend the pipeline to diversify the nurse anesthesia profession with a second initiative of a Diversity CRNA HBCU and Hispanic Serving Institution School of Nursing Tour. Lastly, we started our newest initiative with a Diversity Advanced Practice Doctorate Symposium with a collaborative effort of doctorate prepared CRNAs, Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Researchers, and Nurse Midwives to encourage nurses of color to pursue a doctorate and build a body of work.
How can the nursing community at large be an ally or offer support to BIPOC nurses who want to get into anesthesia?
Deans of Nursing serving at predominantly white institutions, HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribunal American Indian Nursing Schools can intentionally hire CRNAs of color as full-time, part-time or adjunct faculty. They can also invite CRNAs of color to classrooms to speak to nursing students about nurse anesthesia or teach didactic courses. This includes hiring CRNAs in doctorate-prepared nurse anesthesia programs and affording opportunity to be promoted in rank and publish in nursing peer-review journals. This need to be a national effort to make a profound impact in the trajectory of a diverse profession with accountability.
How does mentoring help assist and encourage more BIPOC to get into this facet of nursing?
For many nurses of color, myself included as a first-generation college graduate, we have been motivated, but just need proper direction in career trajectory. I was a registered nurse for eight years before enrolling in a graduate nurse anesthesia program. So, if CRNAs of color can mentor diverse nurses and nursing students prior to their enrollment into a graduate nurse anesthesia program, students will have the support needed to complete the graduate program successfully.
Is there anything else that nurses need to know regarding racism and gender inequality in anesthesia?
In many nurse anesthesia programs, nurse anesthesia students of color experience social isolation, microaggressions, and in some cases, racism as one of the few in their own program in clinical and or in the classrooms. Nurse Anesthesia students need to be very familiar with student policies and in certain cases, should direct any inequities to the Director of Diversity and Equity Officer for any concerns.
- Bankert, M. (1989). Watchful care: A history of America’s nurse anesthetists. New York
- Carnegie, M. E. (2000). The path we tread: Blacks in nursing worldwide, 1854-1994. 3rd (eds.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, and National League for Nursing.
- American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (2018). AANA 2018 Member Profile Survey. Park Ridge: IL.