Connect | Winter
One in three million
EY alumna Wallena Gould shares her journey from accounting to nursing to founding the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.
Out of three million nurses in the US, about 50,000 are certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and only 31 CRNAs are fellows at the American Academy of Nursing. In 2015, EY alumna Wallena Gould became the first African-American CRNA to be elected as a fellow. As the CEO of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program she established in 2002, she is particularly excited about this honor. “It puts me in a circle of people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to talk to,” Gould shares, “so I can elevate my organization even more as a result of just being a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.”
Wallena interned at EY in New York in 1989 while studying at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Upon graduating in 1990, she joined EY as an auditor and moved to South Jersey with her husband, whom she met at Fairleigh Dickinson. Although she switched to a career in nursing years ago, Wallena continues to follow the business world and EY on Twitter. Earlier this year, she attended the DiversityInc Top 50 Event in New York City, at which David O’Brien, EY’s Americas Director of Brand, Marketing and Communications, was a speaker. She introduced herself to O’Brien as an alumna, and he invited her to share her story in Connect.
Diversity is all about relationship building. All I did is develop a lot of relationships and bring in people to expand on it. That networking is huge.
What made you change careers and why nursing anesthesia?
When I started with EY, my son was very young and I was commuting from South Jersey to New York City. Also, besides accounting, I always had an interest in health care. So I made the decision to go back to school to become a nurse. My first position was in the operating room, where I learned about nursing anesthesia providers. However, in order to fulfill the necessary requisite as a critical care nurse, I had to leave the operating room to work with patients in the trauma unit. As a critical care nurse, I later applied to the nurse anesthesia program at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
What inspired you to form the mentorship program?
In 2002, La Salle had a shared nurse anesthesia curriculum with nearby Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Villanova University. As students, we went to each site to be taught by faculty members, all of whom were white.
Our program director asked us to create a presentation on anything related to anesthesia. During that time, I witnessed a minority student fail the nurse anesthesia program. She was a single mother with a child in private school and was working full time. I made several attempts to mentor her but met with no success. Then I wondered about the nursing profession’s ethnic composition. So for my presentation, I requested demographic information from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. They sent me a state-by-state compilation of all the CRNAs and nurse anesthetists. It was sad to see, at that time, out of 36,000 nurse anesthetists in the US, less than 6% were minorities, including Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans. Although I earned a stellar grade on that project, I kept thinking, “Something is wrong here.” I wanted to help the next cohort of minority students. So I asked my program director for approval to speak to them before they entered the program. Some other minority nurse anesthesia students and I had lunch with them and discussed clinical expectations, balancing family and finances, etc. We even introduced them to all the anesthesia equipment in the simulation lab at the school.
How did you grow the program?
I continued to host meetings with minority students in my home. By the time I graduated, so many people were contacting me — from Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York — I couldn’t accommodate everyone in my home. So I asked Villanova’s nurse anesthesia program director if I could use the school’s site for information sessions. I paid for the food, the space was free and it just grew from there. The following year, I started sessions at other locations and invited one of Penn’s program directors and the CEO of Pennsylvania Hospital (a CRNA with a doctorate) to share information about nurse anesthesia and how she rose to become CEO of the hospital. The first three years, it was basically word of mouth. We continued expanding — to Florida, North Carolina, California — and now host weekend sessions for prospective nurse anesthetists across the country. The fourth year, I officially made it a nonprofit organization and created a website. We’ve had 28 sessions since 2004. Next year, we’re hosting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Samuel Merritt University in California and, for the first time, at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.
I’m very careful with the relationships I establish and maintain. That’s what I learned at EY. And having that business background helped me establish my nonprofit organization.
What happens during these sessions?
On the first day, nurse anesthetist program directors from different schools speak about their own learning experiences, the true rigors of a program, clinical expectations and how to balance life while still working as an RN, with many also managing a family. There’s Q&A, and everybody dresses in interview business attire. The day closes with panels of nurse anesthetists and nurse anesthesia students from diverse backgrounds speaking about their own journey. The second day is casual because we take students into the simulation lab. So the session allows the nurses to: 1) network with people in the profession they probably would never meet and 2) participate in a hands-on anesthesia airway workshop conducted by nurse anesthetists and senior nurse anesthesia students.
How does the program make a difference for participants?
We set up mock interviews, critique students’ essays and introduce them to someone currently enrolled in or who graduated from the program for which they are applying. We set a high bar. We expect them to mentor others who want to come into the profession. And most of them do. Since 2003 or 2004, about 1,200 people have gone through my program, and about 400 minority nurses were accepted into 55 graduate nurse anesthesia programs across the country. Some of these CRNAs are now in urban hospitals administering anesthesia, becoming chief nurse anesthetists and clinical coordinators, serving in the military and owning their practices.
How long is the typical CRNA program and what does it cost?
Almost 30 months, because the designation is now transitioning from a master’s-level to doctorate-level program. So it’s expensive. Depending on which region of the country, programs can range from $40,000 to $100,000+, so we advise students to shop around to avoid a lot of debt. We also tell students how to prepare financially, and we encourage those with spouses to bring their partners along to hear what it takes.
What are your specific goals?
I’m hoping to see 15% minority nurse anesthetists by 2020. The National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) gave us $15,000 to purchase our own simulation equipment to take to schools of nursing across the country at historically black colleges and universities and at Hispanic-serving institutions. Eventually, I’d like to take this organization on full time. The funding is just not there yet, but I’m not going to stop.
Did you ever think your school presentation would turn into what you’re doing now?
No, not at all. I just wanted to help the next cohort of CRNA candidates. Diversity is all about relationship building. All I did was develop a lot of relationships and bring in people to expand on it. That professional networking is huge in the nurse anesthesia community. For example, to complete the anesthesia program, students must shadow a nurse anesthetist. Minorities who are first- generation college graduates may not know someone personally, so we connect them with mentors to shadow.
How does it make you feel to have started this?
I love seeing the transition from nursing student to nurse anesthetist to actually administering anesthesia in the operating room. We’re adding value to the health care industry from a cultural competence perspective. I know CRNAs from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Japan, China, Ghana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, other nations in Africa and South America, Pakistan, Syria and Mexico who are fluent in English as well as their native languages. When they help patients who only speak, say, French, Thai or Spanish, they build a uniquely different trust level right before they deliver anesthesia. I know that what we’re doing is great.
How did your EY experience help you in the nurse anesthetist field?
I’m very careful with the relationships I establish and maintain. That’s what I learned at EY. And having that business background helped me establish my nonprofit organization. I had to submit all the paperwork for the 501(c)(3), which was painful [laughs]. But I was persistent [at EY] and I’m persistent now.
EY tops in diversity and with working mothers
For the eighth straight year, DiversityInc has ranked Ernst & Young LLP among the nation’s top 10 diverse organizations. The firm was third overall and the highest ranked professional services firm on DiversityInc’s 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. As part of the ranking, DiversityInc issues participating companies a “report card” that assesses their efforts to ensure diversity in recruiting, talent development, leadership accountability and supplier diversity. In total, Ernst & Young LLP has made the list 13 times. In addition, Working Mother has named EY to its 2016 100 Best Companies list. This marks our 20th year on the list, and our 11th consecutive year in the top 10. “At EY, we are 100% dedicated to ensuring that all of our people have the opportunity to thrive in all aspects of their lives and be authentic while doing so,” said Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer. “Our deliberate focus on fostering an inclusive and flexible work environment is tightly woven into the fabric of our firm and is an important contributor to our consistent high rankings in these key benchmarks.”