By Tyler Pointer
Austin, TX—Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) T’Anya Carter recently completed her Ph.D. in Nursing, after a career inspired by the work and dedication of fellow nurses.
Carter, who currently resides in Dallas, spent the weekends of her teenage years volunteering at hospitals assisting nursing staff and others.
“My friend Kasha introduced me to the idea when I was 14 and I was hooked,” Carter said. “Watching the nurses care for the patients was magical to me. Up until that point, I thought I wanted to become a physician. That experience taught me that patient care truly begins and ends with the nurses.”
After an adolescence dedicated to service and volunteering, Carter worked for years as a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department and then in the surgical intensive care unit. CRNAs would accompany the patients from the operating room after having a fresh open-heart bypass or newly transplanted organs and Carter was intrigued by this.
“Once I saw them in action, I knew being a CRNA was for me,” Carter said. “It continues to be a very exciting and rewarding career. Every day, every patient presents new challenges and that is what keeps anesthesia interesting. Our ability as nurses to assuage fears about the procedure and provide expert anesthesia care, exemplifies the importance and magnitude of being a nurse.”
Upon completion of her Ph.D., Carter was informed by Diversity CRNA, a mentorship program dedicating to diversifying the CRNA field, that she made history as the 11th African-American CRNA with a Ph.D. in the entirety of the United States.
“I had no idea that was even the case, so it was both surprising and disappointing simultaneously,” Carter said. “To know that Black women with Ph.D.s are in the single digits in this profession, is heartbreaking. I read an article recently that Black women comprised 4.4 percent of all doctoral degrees. Bringing it back to nurse anesthesia, if there are, let’s say five or six Black women with a Ph.D. out of the 11, and there are approximately 2,000 Black CRNAs out of around 60,000, then Ph.D. prepared CRNAs are sorely lacking and the question that needs to be asked is, ‘why is that?’,”
“Why aren’t we being encouraged and mentored to attain the degree? It’s the persistent and pervasive oppressive notion that we cannot do it. It is assumed we neither have the intelligence or the fortitude to endure rigorous processes. That, of course, false thinking in every way.”
Carter’s dissertation entitled Challenges for Nurse Anesthetists Re-Entering Practice Following Substance Use Disorder Treatment, highlights the silent struggles affecting many healthcare providers in our country.
“Every anesthesia provider knows of someone who has a history of substance use disorder (SUD),” Carter said. “I personally worked with CRNAs who suffered from a SUD and once they received treatment for the disease and were ready to re-enter the workplace, they had difficulty either getting their jobs back or gaining other employment. This phenomenon fascinated me, and I wanted to know more about it. More importantly, I wanted to help CRNAs and the profession.”
According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, it could be estimated that 10 to 15 percent of all medical professionals in the United States will misuse drugs or alcohol at some point during their career.
At time of Carter’s application to the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s School of Nursing, she noticed there was very little literature regarding the topic of CRNA re-entry into the workforce after treatment for SUD, and she felt it a gap of knowledge which could be filled using her research.
Altering study methods regarding COVID-19 restrictions, Carter gathered her data through telephone interviews, but noted that it is harder to establish rapport with participants sharing something so personal.
“There were many barriers that were revealed, yet the most pressing issues included fear, stigma and unsupportive workplaces,” Carter said. “I will soon disseminate the findings of my study to help CRNAs and anesthesia departments across the country to help anesthesia colleagues successfully re-enter practice following treatment. My immediate goals (post-graduation) include to continue my research on re-entry. The study only revealed more questions and further gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed.”
Working the frontlines as a CRNA, Carter knows the stressors that come with the profession first-hand but believes CRNAs have been up-to-challenge for the worst parts of the pandemic.
“Providing anesthesia is a very stressful profession. Now with the pandemic in full swing, the inherent stress that comes with the job is now multiplied times infinity in the face of a virus that can kill you,” Carter said. “Patients are sick and scared. Family members are sick and scared. Providers are sick, scared, working longer hours, working extra shifts and are maxed out mentally and physically. CRNAs are going where we are needed and helping in any capacity when called upon. We are definitely there.”
Carter is an active member of the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetists (TxANA) and serves as the association’s representative to the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses (TPAPN), led by the Texas Nurses Association.
Understanding that outreach is a solution to coming to terms with SUD, Carter encourages anyone to reach out to her for their first step to getting the assistance they need.
“Asking for help is the best thing anyone can do,” Carter said. “A number of people view asking for help as a weakness and it is the exact opposite. Asking for help is a sign of strength! No one has to suffer alone! I am available to help as much as I can.’’
After working on her Ph.D. for over five and a half years, Carter wants others to help fill the gaps of knowledge in the field of nursing.
“The world needs more nurse scientists,” Carter said. “There are gaps in nursing knowledge that need to be filled and I wanted to do that. If a nurse has burning desire to address some of those knowledge gaps and would like for this to become their life’s work, then yes, please pursue the degree.”
Carter has carried her love of helping others, one of the core values of nursing, into her life and into her work centered around giving back to the nursing community that inspired her so much.
“There is still so much work that needs to be done,” Carter said. “Substance use was on the rise pre-COVID, and now the pandemic has exacerbated an already troublesome problem due to over-work and overall stress. Nurses in general will need be supported with SUD resources.”
“My mother told me that I was born to be helpful. She was not wrong. I am at my best when I am helping others. Nurses inspired me to become a nurse. That was the best decision I have ever made.”
If you, or someone you know is suffering from a substance use disorder, call the American Addiction Centers at (888) 702-0708. If you are a CRNA suffering from SUD, visit here.
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