National University Students in Nurse Anesthesia Program Make an Impact in Bolivia

At National University, it’s not just about earning a degree, but the degree to which you use it – and for many students that means giving back through community service. Three current students enrolled in the Nurse Anesthesia Program got a head start in doing just that by working with patients in a remote part of Bolivia under the guidance of their Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor, Dr. Bryan Tune, CRNA.

Nurses in Bolivia

National University students, Matt Struthers, Colin Inverary, and Jonathan Gardner, spent nine days accompanying Dr. Tune on the medical mission, providing anesthesia services to some 40 patients undergoing major abdominal surgeries.

“I feel very fortunate to have had this unique opportunity to provide anesthesia care. I feel strongly that it’s so important for me to use my skills and degree to help others who may not have had the same opportunities I’ve had in life,” said Struthers, who worked as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at a Tucson, Arizona medical center before enrolling in the Nurse Anesthesia Program at National University.

National University’s Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia Program, based in Fresno, is one of only five such programs in California. Even though the program’s students typically have lucrative careers to look forward to upon graduation, many are also dedicated to giving back. Much of the faculty, including Dr. Tune, shares that perspective.

Dr. Tune, for the past five years, has engaged in missions providing anesthesia and critical care services in remote regions of Bolivia, Guatemala, and Haiti. This year, Dr. Tune was invited by Medical Ministries International, a Canada-based nonprofit, to serve as the primary anesthesia provider on a medical mission in Bolivia. The organization allowed Dr. Tune to bring three students with him to learn the value of service-based work and humanitarian efforts.

The destination? San Ignacio—a nine-hour bus ride from the nearest major airport. There, they provided critical anesthesia services to patients undergoing hysterectomies, gynecological operations, and other major surgical procedures. What made their effort particularly remarkable was the use of a process they learned through their program called ultrasound guided regional anesthesia, which employs a portable ultrasound machine to identify major nerve tissue. In a place with limited resources such as San Ignacio, this type of anesthetics can increase safety, patient comfort, and patient outcomes.

“Opportunities like this don’t come across too often,” said Inverary. “I was happy to have the chance to give back.”

Students who are accepted into National University’s competitive Nurse Anesthesia 27-month program have, on average, two to five years of previous experience working as a critical care registered nurse. Inverary, 40, had worked as an ICU nurse for 14 years before enrolling in the Nurse Anesthesia Program.

The first year of the program is focused on the didactic science of anesthesia care delivery. The remainder of the curriculum is focused on clinical application by means of mentored rotations at hospitals, medical centers, and clinics throughout California, Arizona, Texas, and Montana. Dr. Tune noted that “when students in the Nurse Anesthesia Program are doing their clinical work, they are not only bringing cutting edge, innovative techniques to their patients, but they often find themselves sharing the most current evidence with seasoned anesthesia providers.”

Graduates are highly sought after, and 85 percent are hired by one of the clinical sites at which they rotated through as a student at National University.

“The uniqueness of this program here at National University is that the faculty are all current and practicing Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists,” said Dr. Gloria McNeal, Dean of the School of Health and Human Services at National University. “We pride ourselves as being a mentorship-based program in which the students are mentored directly by the faculty for the entire 27 months.”

With the national mean annual salary for nurse anesthetists around $160,000, and higher than $200,000 in California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is very lucrative for graduates. But money is not the focus for many. Public service is. Dr. Tune noted that National University’s Nurse Anesthesia Program students are doing much of their clinical work in underserved areas: “The students are working with extraordinarily diverse populations, ranging from Laotian communities in the San Joaquin Valley to Native American populations in Arizona,” he said. “Our students are having a tremendous impact for the greater.”