New Case Western Reserve University program helps to bring more diversity to specialized nursing

Gives aspiring CRNAs chance to chase their dreams
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Posted at 2:47 PM, May 31, 2022

CLEVELAND — Isn’t it crazy when your life comes full circle?

For Cha’Kia Brunner that looks something like this — when she was 18, she was hospitalized for an illness and met a certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA.

“Just a really nice guy, seemed to love his job,” Brunner said. “At 18, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was like, ‘I wanna be that happy,' so I did research and that’s where the story started.”

And here’s where her story has taken her — more than a decade later.

Brunner went to nursing school, got her bachelor’s degree and worked for years in an open-heart ICU, all with the goal of getting into CRNA school.

But rejection after rejection kept pushing that dream back.

Same story for Mya Williams.

“Being denied acceptance multiple times, you feel like maybe it’s not for me, maybe it’s not my path,” Williams said. “Getting accepted into this program really changed all that.”

The program she's referring to is called LEAP — a pilot program that stands for the “Leadership Excel and Achievement Program" at Case Western Reserve University.

LEAP is a one-year certificate program for nurse anesthetists that just graduated its first class.

Graduates will automatically be enrolled into three-year doctoral-level CRNA programs at nearly a dozen partner universities all over the country, including: the University of Arizona, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Augusta University, Columbia University, Rush University, Rosalind Franklin University, University of Cincinnati, Emory University, West Virginia University and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The program is the brainchild of Dr. Sonya Moore, the director of the Nurse Anesthesia program at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

“Medical schools have some very similar type programs, but this is the first of its kind in nursing and it is starting in anesthesia,” Moore said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 45% jump in demand for CRNAs in just the next decade.

Not only is LEAP giving skilled students a path — they’re focusing on diversity.

Because with about 64,000 nurse anesthetists in the country, less than 10% are minorities.

“All nurses care for patients, they love patients, they want to help them and treat them,” Moore said. “But it’s that idea that someone knows exactly what you’re talking about from a very similar experience.”

Racial disparities in healthcare have been well documented. The National Academy of Medicine found minorities receive lower-quality healthcare than white people — even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.

So having someone who looks like you caring for you can be important.

“It’s almost like an unspoken language,” Brunner said.

In a few weeks, Brunner, Williams and others will start a 36-month-long journey to become CRNAs, a dream they’ve been working toward for more than a decade.

Brunner will actually do her clinicals at the same hospital in Canton that saved her life all those years ago.

“I feel a lot of emotions,” she said. “I’m anxious, I’m nervous, I’m excited. But overall, I feel prepared.”

Her experience is a reminder that no matter how many rejections you get, the dream — and your story — doesn’t end there.

“I feel passion is like a compass. You go through obstacles and journeys just to go where you want to go and I feel like my passion is what fueled me to keep going,” Williams said.