In August, The University of Tulsa’s School of Nursing will welcome the first cohort of students to its brand new nurse anesthesia graduate program – the only one in Oklahoma. In preparation for the program’s launch, TU’s Oxley College of Health Sciences recently hired two dynamic individuals to lead the way.
Prior to joining TU as the program’s inaugural director, Lisa Riedel, DNP, MS, CRNA, was an assistant professor in one of Michigan’s five nurse anesthesia programs. Her assistant director is Andy Tracy, PhD, MSN, CRNA, who comes to TU from Veterans Affairs (VA) at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center, where he was the chief certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and clinical coordinator for nurse anesthesia students.
Riedel and Tracy sat down with us recently for a Q&A, where they spoke about their professional backgrounds, as well as the past, present and future of nurse anesthesia. They also gave us some glimpses of their lives when the leave the office – dogs, motorcycles and more.
What is your background in nursing generally and nurse anesthesia in particular?
LISA RIEDEL (LR): I went to the University of Michigan after high school and graduated with my bachelor of science in nursing while playing on the soccer team. I went into the surgical intensive care unit (ICU) and started nurse anesthesia school five years later. I earned my master of science (MS) in nurse anesthesiology from the University of Detroit Mercy and practiced in a variety of settings in both Michigan and Ohio while raising a family. Five years into my career as a CRNA, I began my doctor of nursing practice degree. My goal was to become a program director. And here I am: my new position at TU is the culmination of that goal!
ANDY TRACY (AT): I graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. I then worked in various ICUs for about seven years before I went back for an MS from Rush University. During my career, I have worked in a large variety of practice settings, including in a rural CRNA-only practice, as a business owner, as a member of a large multi-hospital supervised practice, with the VA and in a collaborative practice – to just name a few of my jobs. I returned to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn my PhD because I was interested in teaching and research. I have published a number of times and am currently interested in continuing research in nurse anesthesia and education.
What drew you to a career in nurse anesthesia and now to your role in nurse anesthesia education?
LR: Working in nurse anesthesia is a lot like my days as a soccer goalie. You are singular in your role yet need to function as part of a larger team. You have to possess a unique set of skills that may often go unused; however, when they’re needed, you must perform those skills independently and proficiently.
Nurse anesthesia requires dedication, motivation, intense training, continued training, inquisitiveness and attention to detail. My soccer teammates depended on me to make the difficult saves as well as the routine ones, and my perioperative staff expects the same.
I also get to meet – and bring my whole self to – my patients and my coworkers. There is nothing more rewarding! To get to impart that knowledge and passion to the next generation of providers is a blessing. There are so many bright, eager, and kind ICU nurses that are going to make terrific CRNAs. I am proud to be part of their journey.
AT: My path was different than Lisa’s. Following high school, I went directly into the Army. I always assumed I would wind up in aviation, and I did not switch to nursing until after my father died from cancer and I finished my Army commitment. At that time, there were no aviation jobs available due to the economy. A family friend (a nurse) thought I would make a good nurse, so I thought I would give it a try.
Fast forward a number of years and I found myself attending graduate school for anesthesia. I love nurse anesthesia for all of the reasons Lisa pointed out. You bring your whole self to every anesthetic. The job requires intense focus because each person is literally placing his or her life in your hands and is trusting you to keep him or her safe and alive.
As a clinical and as a didactic nursing educator, I get the privilege of teaching the next generation(s) of nurse anesthetists. My goal for them is to be good enough so that I can have full trust in their abilities, because someday they may have to anesthetize me.
Why is nurse anesthesia a growing nursing practice?
AT: Nurse anesthetists have been practicing anesthesia in the United States since Alice Magaw (the Mother of Anesthesia) in the mid-1800s. Nurse anesthesia will continue to grow as a practice and as a profession because we perform quality work, independently, at far less cost than physicians trained in anesthesia.
LR: I would just add to what Andy has said by underscoring that nurse anesthesia is the oldest of all the advanced practice nurse specialties. It has always been strong and will continue to be strong. CRNAs are the primary providers of anesthesia care in rural America, enabling health care facilities in these medically underserved areas to offer obstetrical, surgical, pain management and trauma stabilization services.
CRNAs are also the primary providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military personnel on front lines, navy ships and aircraft evacuation teams around the globe. We are safe and cost effective. We provide evidence-based practice across the lifespan. With our aging population and the need to control costs, CRNAs are the answer.
What’s on the horizon in the nurse anesthesia world?
LR: Practicing to our full scope. Here in Oklahoma, there’s legislation being debated to remove physician supervision from the Nurse Practice Act. Many other states have already done this.
At the federal level, physician supervision has temporarily been removed in order to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. This should be made permanent.
Physician supervision increases cost with no added benefit. Numerous studies have demonstrated that nurse anesthetists practicing independently achieve the same results as physician anesthesiologists and as anesthesia care team models where physician anesthesiologists supervise nurse anesthetists. The time has come to remove physician supervision of nurse anesthesia practice so that access to anesthesia services can be increased and health care costs can be decreased.
AT: VA is also in the process of permanently removing physician supervision from nurse anesthetists. Every VA is set up differently: some have CRNAs practicing independently, some have collaboration and some have supervision at 4 CRNAs:1 physician, with some even at 1 CRNA:1 physician, which is not fiscally responsible.
Who are Andy Tracy and Lisa Riedel when they’re not getting TU’s nurse anesthesia program ready for its first students?
AT: Well, outside of work I share a home with my husband, our son and a four-year-old boxer. Those three keep me really busy! I also have two motorcycles and can often be found riding one of them in my free time. Before moving to Tulsa, I used to volunteer with LGBTQ+ organizations, and I’m hoping to become involved with my new city’s LGBTQ+ community too.
Some of my other hobbies are reading, music (instrumental and vocal), working out (the gym and biking), sewing, hunting and farming. In fact, I still own my family’s 200-acre farm back in Wisconsin, which I manage from a distance.
LR: I am a wife, mother of two and a proud poodle parent. I enjoy reading, watching documentaries, spending time with my family and exploring my new hometown of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma. The first time I ever set foot in Oklahoma was for my interview and the second time was to start this job. My family and I are enjoying everything Tulsa and Oklahoma have to offer.
Are you considering a career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist? Find out more about TU’s new nurse anesthesia program and how we can help you reach your career goal.