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Excela, St. Vincent to start doctoral program in nurse anesthesia

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Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Nurse anesthetists will be able to earn a doctorate in anesthesia in Westmoreland County beginning next fall through a program that the Excela Health School of Anesthesia and St. Vincent College jointly operate.

The new, 30-credit program will enable certified registered nurse anesthetists to become doctors in nurse anesthesia practice. Students completing the program can either teach or remain in practice, said Dr. Beverly Silvis, director of the Excela Health School of Anesthesia.

“As the areas of expertise within our field of practice become more specialized, the need arises to have an advanced level of educational knowledge,” Silvis said.

The new doctoral program will allow Excela to comply with the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists' call for a doctoral-level program by 2025 for all anesthesia programs, Silvis said. The new program is one of only a handful in the United States to accommodate the needs of working nurse anesthetists, she said.

Graduates of the program will complement to Excela's existing family medicine residency graduates as the health system strives to provide highly trained clinicians, said Dr. Carol J. Fox, interim chief medical officer.

The doctoral program seeks to develop nurse anesthetists with superior levels of knowledge in anesthesia theory and practice and to establish new standards of quality and care, said John Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs at St. Vincent.

Excela Health announced in 2009 that it would work with St. Vincent College to start an entry-level doctoral program in nurse anesthesia by 2015. Nurses with a bachelor's degree could earn a doctorate in anesthesia without earning a master's degree, Silvis said.

St. Vincent and Excela Health currently offer a 28-month program that allows nurses with a bachelor's degree to earn a master of science degree in health science, with an emphasis in nurse anesthesia. The program prepares students to pass a national examination to become certified registered nurse anesthetists who have the authority to administer anesthesia and monitor a patient's recovery.

Excela Health and St. Vincent College began the joint graduate-level program leading to a master of science in health science degree in 2005. Each year, several hundred prospective students from across the nation apply for about 30 spaces in this program, officials said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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