The Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia program goes way back and today draws students from throughout the country.

The program that would eventually become Saint Mary’s began in 1952, when Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis started an institutional licensure program that accepted six or seven students per year.

Decades later, the nurse anesthesia program is a hallmark of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Today there’s a waiting list to enter the program that’s known for its quality, practicality and wide range of clinical sites.

“In the 1950s, a lot of programs were based in hospitals,” said Merri Moody, dean of the graduate school of health and human services and director of the nurse anesthesia program at Saint Mary’s. “Hospitals had their own schools of nursing; they educated nurses for their own staff.”

The expense of providing in-house education became too much for hospitals to bear, and they looked to colleges and universities to provide the academic component while continuing to provide clinical opportunities for supervised practice. One of these collaborating schools was Saint Mary’s University, as it entered a cooperative agreement with Abbott Northwestern (formerly known as Northwestern Hospital) in the early 1980s. Nurse anesthesia became one of the first programs to be hosted by Saint Mary’s when its new Twin Cities Campus opened in 1984.

In 1997, Saint Mary’s assumed full sponsorship of the nurse anesthesia program at Abbott Northwestern (formerly known as Northwestern Hospital) and Moody was named the director.

Today’s nurse anesthesia graduate students have one year of academic, in-the-classroom learning and then they have four semesters of clinical practice. “The students rotate through the mandatory rotations, which consist of a major urban medical center, a community hospital, a rural health care center and a pediatric hospital,” Moody said.

Saint Mary’s nurse anesthesia students also have experience in open heart surgery, opthalmology, obstetrics and neurosurgery. According to Moody, they have to prove that they can take care of all types of patients in a wide range of settings and circumstances.

“We have more than 30 clinical sites, that’s one of the big advantages,” said current student Robert Arno. “You get your own experience since there’s more than enough places for everyone to go. You rotate through everything.”

Originally from New York, Arno thought he’d be the only one from a distant location. But to his surprise, he was in class with students from Texas, Nevada, Kansas, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

One of Arno’s classmates, Amanda Gu, moved to Minneapolis with her husband and infant son because she could not find a nurse anesthesia program in her home state of New Mexico.

“I knew that if I wanted to do nursing anesthesia, it would have to be out of state,” Gu said. “Saint Mary’s has affordable tuition and the great clinical sites have really prepared me for practice. It’s a good fit,” she added.

The 30-some students who are accepted in each year are selected from a pool of 180 to 230 applicants. Those students go on to experience a significant amount of independence in clinical settings, another reason why aspiring nurse anesthetists like studying at Saint Mary’s.

“The students bear a great deal of responsibility, but they also achieve a significant amount of autonomy,” Moody said. “Once they graduate, they can practice independently, so we want to prepare them for that.”

“Students really learn how to do the whole scope of practice,” Moody said. “From seeing patients in the pre-op area, determining whether or not they are fit for surgery, performing the anesthetic, bringing them to the recovery room — they do it all.”

When you learn how comprehensive Saint Mary’s program is, it becomes easy to see why students are enrolling from coast to coast.

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