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    Excellence Is Not an Accident, It’s a Habit

    By Jennifer Decker Arevalo, MA, contributor.

    Gloria Spires, CRNA, BSAs a certified nurse anesthetist for more than 30 years, Gloria Spires, CRNA, BS, believes that “excellence isn’t just an accident, it’s a habit. Nurse anesthetists strive for perfection and that’s why you will always find them at their peak; it’s no accident that they have achieved this level of nursing and are successful at their jobs.”

    Spires, who practices at the The Surgery Center at Southwoods in Boardman, Ohio, emphasized that nurse anesthetist success is the result of hard work and determination. “When I was going to school fulltime at St. Elizabeth Hospital School for Nurse Anesthetists in Youngstown, Ohio, I also worked on the weekends as an RN in recovery,” Spires said. “I liked it that way because I was driven and focused.”    

    “Today, however, the amount of training and education to become a nurse anesthetist is rigorous for some young people, as the field now requires a master’s degree,” she said.

    By 2025, nurse anesthetists may be required to have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) as an entry credential, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). 

    “Although it’s a ‘hard row to hoe’ to become a nurse anesthetist, it’s a rewarding profession,” Spires said, speaking from experience. As one of only 68 students in her high school graduating class from a small town in Ohio, Spires had her sights set on becoming an anesthesiologist. However, due to her family’s financial situation, college and medical school were not an option at the time for this African-American, honor society student.

    “Fortunately, I had an amazing guidance counselor, who knew my career interest,” Spires said. “After researching the profession, he found that there were nurses doing the same thing as physicians. Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing in Wheeling, West Virginia was offering a nursing program that allowed you to work as you go and pay for your education upon completion. Since my father was busy working and my mother was not at home, my counselor drove me to Wheeling on the day of my interview and waited in the car until my interview was complete.

    “I was accepted and that is how I began my career in nursing.

    “My husband soon got a job in Youngstown, Ohio, so I transferred to St. Elizabeth’s which is where I finished my training as an RN and received my certification as a nurse anesthetist,” Spires continued. “I loved working in surgery and obstetrics, but since there were no jobs in these departments, I ended up working in the ICU. Without realizing it though, this allowed me to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ as I needed to fulfill an ICU requirement for anesthesia school. I completed my Bachelor of Science training at Youngstown State University, so it all worked out in the end.”

    Armed with the critical-thinking and decision-making skills necessary to be a nurse anesthetist, Spires worked briefly at St. Elizabeth’s but spent much of her early career working for Anesthesia Associates in Youngstown. Because of her love of outpatient anesthesia, Spires was asked by her employer to help open and then run Beeghly Medical Park, a same-day surgery center in the early 1980s and was asked again in 1996 to do the same for The Surgery Center at Southwoods.

    “Seeing patients who smile and are happy when they wake up is what I enjoy most about my job,” she said. “Patients are always nervous prior to surgery and my job is to bond with them, gain their confidence and assure them that I am going to wake them up afterwards, all within the 30 seconds before they go under. Just the other day, I received a note from a patient saying, ‘thanks for knocking me out, but mostly, thanks for waking me up!’

    “Teaching my coworkers—the admitting and operating RNs—as well as the post anesthesia care unit staff, is also something I enjoy and it helps to keep everyone current with continuing education requirements.”

    “Surprisingly, administering the anesthesia is the easiest part of my job. The hardest part is to make a clinical assessment and a plan that works, taking into consideration such stressful things as the higher acuity of patients we see today, the constantly changing health care environment and the decreasing length of stays,” Spires said. “However, I’ve been doing this job for so long, alongside other highly trained health care professionals, that we have learned to handle the pressures and still work well together. People don’t even know that we might be uncomfortable.”

    In addition to her job, Spires, together with another CRNA, has operated her own business, CS Anesthesia, since 2001, that contracts with ophthalmic practices, and has lectured for 10 years across the country for a pharmaceutical company. She has been active for many years in the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, serving as president from 1997 to 1998, and was also the director of Region 6 for the AANA between 2004 and 2006. She attributes her entrepreneurial and leadership success to her “worker bee" style, as she is not afraid of getting her hands dirty to get a job done, and the positive influence of African-American leaders in her profession.

    Even though less than three percent of current nurse anesthetists are African-American, Spires is modest when it comes to acknowledging that she is somewhat of a pioneer in the field.

    “Color has never been a problem for me, even in my era of training. I just feel like I stood on the shoulders of those, like Goldie Brangman, CRNA-ret, who went before me and blazed the way.” Brangman, who was a personal friend of Spires, was the first African-American president of the AANA from 1973 to 1974 and was the director of the Harlem Hospital School of Nurse Anesthesia in Harlem, NY.

    Content with her work and looking forward to retirement and traveling, Spires only has one regret regarding her professional career. “I should have gotten my master’s degree,” she said. “This lack of credential sometimes holds me back. However, I love my work and encourage others to become nurse anesthetists.”

    The AANA projects a demand for over 35,000 CRNAs by 2010 and 33 percent of current CRNAs are planning to retire by 2007.

    Heeding her mother’s advice after years of observing her passion for anesthesia, Spire’s daughter is now attending medical school and interested in becoming an anesthesiologist.

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