By Ron Supan
As director of the Army’s graduate program in Anesthesia Nursing, Colonel Normalynn Garrett, CRNA, PhD, directs a multi-million dollar educational program involving 27 PhD level educators, scientists, and support personnel to ensure adherence to standards prescribed by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.
“The Army Anesthesia Program is the only master’s degree program administered by the Army for Army Nurse Corps officers,” notes Garrett. She also serves as consultant to the Chief of Army Nurse Corps for all matters pertaining to nurse anesthesia education. “In the Army, nurse anesthetists are the sole anesthesia providers for Forward Surgical Teams (FST’s), and provide most of the anesthesia care for the war effort. We graduate virtually all of the nurse anesthetists that the Army uses.” The program is based at the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Research is a vital component of the master’s program that Garrett oversees, which enrolls up to three dozen Army Nurse Corps officers each year. Recently her research has focused on naturally occurring food supplements and their potential interactions with anesthesia. One research group in the program is examining the popular herb Valerian, which is used as a treatment for insomnia, to investigate its impact at the GABAA receptor. Valerain may interact with commonly used anesthetics, Garrett says.
Garrett, who started her Army career in 1974 as an enlisted social worker, returned to school to obtain her master’s degree in education from Boston University and BS in Nursing from Mobile College in Alabama. She entered the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in 1998. At Hopkins, under the direction of Gayle Page, DNSc, RN, FAAN, she conducted a study on the effect of NMDA receptor antagonists on NK cell activity in rodents.
In recognition of Garrett’s contributions to the Army Nurse Corps, she was honored last summer with the Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee Award. Named after the founder of the Corps, the award recognizes professional and military nursing excellence and has been sponsored annually by the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1967. In being nominated for the honor, which she accepted at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. on July 8, 2005, Garrett was praised as “an Army Nurse Corps leader who exquisitely balances multiple responsibilities of leader, mentor, educator, administrator, scientist, colleague, and friend.”
By Ron Supan
Three days after receiving her certified nursing license in the mail, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing alumna Erin Abu-Rish ’05 joined other volunteer nurses to administer aid to 4,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina who were evacuated from poor conditions in the New Orleans Superdome to shelters in Forth Worth, Texas.
With a team of two other nurses, Abu-Rish performed training sessions with new volunteers, met with the local public health department about potential tuberculosis exposures and lice outbreaks, sought out resources for the replacement of durable medical equipment and prescription medicines, and followed up with evacuees who had been hospitalized.
Many of her patients who escaped the destruction of Hurricane Katrina had to walk through the contaminated waters of New Orleans and were affected by cuts and skin rashes. “This made healing especially hard for many of the people with diabetes who had lost all their medications, testing equipment, and access to appropriate food before they arrived in the shelters,” says Abu-Rish.
Working 16-hour days was the norm for the volunteer nurses, who were on call 24 hours a day. “I would often leave the office at 10 or 11 pm and spread my cell phones out next to me at the restaurant where I was grabbing dinner,” she says. “I’d fall into bed to only get up again at 6 am the next morning. It was an exhausting, but rewarding experience.”
Abu-Rish says she spent most of her time in the office helping to coordinate staffing and training, and solving problems related to the way health services were functioning. “I quickly became comfortable helping to triage patients/situations over the phone and got over any hesitation about introducing myself as a nurse,” she says.
In addition to her nursing duties, Abu-Rish reunited families, made funeral assistance referrals, and opened and closed new shelters depending on their census and the weather. “Just before Hurricane Rita evacuations, we finally closed one of our [Katrina] shelters. Then at 3 am the next morning, we were out getting supplies for a new special needs shelter that opened at 5 am when busloads of Rita evacuees arrived,” she says.
Presently, Abu-Rish works with a comprehensive transplant unit (heart, lung, kidney, and liver) at the Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital, while volunteering with the local disaster response at the American Red Cross in Manhattan.
During her time as a Red Cross volunteer for Hurricane Katrina relief, Abu-Rish learned hands-on nursing the hard way. “Rarely do new graduates have such immediate levels of responsibility,” she says. “It was humbling but exhilarating to have my first role as a registered nurse in an enrollment of such need.”
By Ron Supan
Her work in Jeremie, Haiti, under the auspices of Medico/Care, involved opening a new Albert Schweitzer Memorial Hospital—a 100-bed facility with professional staff recruited from various locations. “In Haiti, patients were transferred from larger cities with diseases such as malnutrition, intestinal parasites, fractures and other traumas. I saw countless neo-natal deaths,” she recalls.
Once her contract ran out in 1962, Watson signed on to work with the Thomas A. Dooley Foundation, a foundation which provides medical assistance to refugees, children, and villagers in less privileged parts of the world, with an emphasis on self help.
Watson recalls working in challenging circumstances. In Laos, the foundation refurbished an abandoned hospital unit in Ban Houei Sai and recruited staff from various countries. “People were so sick, and families would accompany their sick members from the countryside,” Watson recalls. “In the city of Moung Khong, a facility on a house boat was converted into a clinic with an operating room, but it lacked many capabilities. In India, clothing, blankets, crafts materials, vitamins, and food supplements were given to villagers in need. Nepal had the most significance because we created a nationwide survey to determine the most prevalent diseases and to devise recommendations for projects to ameliorate the most troubling problems.”
Watson didn’t originally plan to pursue nursing as a career. As a student at Oregon University she was marked as a dance major. But then a teacher encouraged her to pursue nursing, and supplied her with addresses for “two major schools,” she says, “one of which was Johns Hopkins.” In 1948, Watson was accepted at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing with an Elsie M. Lawler Scholarship. During her 1951 graduation ceremony from Hopkins, Watson received a Maltese Cross Pin that originally belonged to Jane Carter, class of 1901. When Watson retired from nursing in 1990, she sent her Maltese Cross Pin to the Alumni Association, where the 100-year-old pin was then presented to Ella Lynch, Class of 2001.
In addition to her international work, Watson’s remarkably varied resume consists of nursing work at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a staff nurse and head nurse; and at different hospitals in Oregon, Hawaii, California, and New York. Watson received her MPH in 1968 at the University of Hawaii School of Public Health, worked as a consulting instructor for Peace Corps Volunteer training, and set up recruitment programs for qualified physicians to staff a new Post Graduate Medical Specialty Training facility in Okinawa.
Since her retirement, Watson has been invited to talk about her nursing experiences at job fairs. “With all my heart, I encourage nurses to actually work abroad through any number of sponsorships.”