UAMS College of Nursing Honors Inaugural Graduating Classes for Two Programs

By Chris Carmody

Sixteen students from the College of Nursing made up the inaugural cohort of the DNP Nurse Anesthesia program. The three-year program prepares students to provide high-quality, cost-effective anesthetic care to patients of all ages in a variety of clinical settings. Graduates gain eligibility to take their national certification examination to become certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

Patricia Cowan, Ph.D., RN, dean of the College of Nursing, congratulated the students and noted the faculty’s pride in all their accomplishments.

“I think when you look back, you have to marvel at where you started compared to where you are now,” she said. “You’ve not only learned the skills you need to perform your duties, but you’ve also grown as leaders.”

Michelle Gonzalez, Ph.D., CRNA, clinical associate professor and director of the Nurse Anesthesia program, thanked the students for putting their trust in the College of Nursing as it moved forward with the new program. She also recognized the friends and family members who have supported these graduates during the past three years.

“We are grateful and appreciative that you’ve lent us time with these graduates,” she said. “We’re now returning them to you stronger, smarter and ready to go out and start in a whole new profession.”

Gonzalez told the students that she hopes the program has instilled lifelong learning skills that will help them as they move forward in their careers.

“Education is the key that’s going to provide many opportunities in your life, and we can’t wait to see all the doors that you open,” she said.

Mark Dunavan, DNP, CRNA, clinical assistant professor and assistant director of the program, offered the graduates a reminder of the work they put in during the past three years. He said they combined to perform more than 37,000 hours of clinical service, including 24,500 total hours of anesthesia time. They carried out this work through thousands of intubations and hundreds of spinals, epidurals and peripheral nerve block procedures.

Mark Dunavan, assistant director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Nurse Anesthesia program, addresses the graduates during a celebration of their achievements.

Mark Dunavan, assistant director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Nurse Anesthesia program, addresses the graduates during a celebration of their achievements.

Dunavan said the graduates started their studies in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were among the only students on campus at a time when most of UAMS’ academic programs had shifted to virtual instruction. He praised them for their perseverance in the face of adversity, adding that their experiences drew them together and created lasting connections.

“You’re forever going to be the inaugural class of the UAMS nurse anesthesia program,” he said.

Chase Watson, DNP, said he had a great experience in the program. Watson, whose next step is a job at Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock, noted that many members of the graduating class plan to pursue their careers in Arkansas or in surrounding states.

“I’m proud of every one of you,” he told his fellow graduates. “We’re going to make a great impact.”

Meanwhile, at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville, 17 students from the College of Nursing represented the first graduating class of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (A-BSN) program.

Open to students who have obtained a degree in any non-nursing field of study, the intensive program condenses into 15 months a course load that would otherwise take two to four years to complete. The goal is to address a chronic shortage of registered nurses by expediting the process of training and placing them in the workforce.

The A-BSN program combines course work and clinical rotations, with a focus on improving judgment and critical thinking. For a capstone experience, each student was paired with a nurse during the summer for 225 hours of one-on-one training.

Lauren Haggard-Duff, Ph.D., RN, clinical associate professor and director of the A-BSN program, noted that the nurses spoke glowingly about their time with the students.

“Our nursing preceptors described the students as highly engaged and professional,” she said.

Hannah Kouchehbagh, a graduate of the inaugural cohort, praised the program for providing hands-on opportunities in clinical settings.

“I think this program readied us to become the best nurses we can be,” she said. “Being able to spend my last semester working with a nursing preceptor was an amazing opportunity that increased my confidence in myself and my place in the medical field.”

Kouchehbagh also highlighted the importance of donors who provided scholarships for the program. She said the assistance had a vital role in easing the burdens of the students, who were ineligible for many grants and scholarships as they pursued a second degree.

Fifteen of the graduates plan to stay in Arkansas to pursue their careers, including Kouchehbagh, who is moving to Little Rock for a job at Arkansas Children’s.

“The graduation of our inaugural Accelerated BSN class marks an accomplishment for the students within the program and for the UAMS faculty,” said Megan Owen, MSN, APRN, clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing. “We’re excited to see the contributions these graduates will make in the nursing community both locally and statewide.”