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Nursing Student’s Experience as Patient Inspires her Journey to Become a CRNA

Bria Sharp, right, student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in the UT Health Science Center College of Nursing, decided to pursue nursing after her own experience managing sickle cell disease. Her mother, Assistant Professor Jackie Sharp, DNP, APRN, PMHNP, left, said she was excited when Bria decided to become a nurse.

One of the major roles a nurse plays is that of a patient advocate. So, it makes sense that Bria Sharp decided to become a nurse after spending her childhood learning to manage her own chronic health condition – sickle cell disease (SCD).

“I always knew I wanted to go into health care after my early experiences with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They were my primary providers for my first 18 years and provided a great model for me to follow,” she said. “Not only did they provide excellent care, but they also taught me about my disease and how to manage it.” These experiences are what led to Bria developing her desire to pursue nursing.

SCD is a group of blood disorders that prevent the normal flow of blood in the body because of the effect on the hemoglobin in red blood cells. St. Jude has been researching and treating SCD since the hospital opened in 1962. SCD is the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S., affecting about 100,000 Americans. Symptoms include pain crises, difficulty breathing, and high fevers.

When both parents carry the sickle cell trait but do not express the disease themselves, their child has a 25% chance of having SCD. That is the situation for Bria, the only one of her three siblings in her family who has SCD. In middle school, Bria experienced many pain crises, but she learned to see the patterns that led up to them and developed treatment plans to avert them.

Despite her chronic condition, Bria has chosen a very challenging path in nursing. She is in the middle of a rigorous, full-time Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in nurse anesthesiology at the UTHSC College of Nursing. Bria earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) from the college in 2019. It was in this program that Bria was first introduced to nurse anesthesiology. “I had a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist (CRNA) who took us under her wing for our clinical day in the OR. We could tell her role was complex and interesting, and this is where my interest began.”

Bria’s mother is also a nurse. Assistant Professor Jackie Sharp, DNP, APRN, PMHNP, is the concentration coordinator for the Psychiatric Mental Health DNP program at UTHSC. Dr. Sharp said she was excited when Bria decided to become a nurse.

“She has the personality for it. She is a very compassionate person and really cares for her patients,” Dr. Sharp said. “She is a great patient advocate.”

Before returning to school for her DNP, Bria worked in a local intensive care unit and really enjoyed it. But she said that the role of the CRNA will be even more challenging.

“When you are a nurse in the ICU, you have the ICU physician or nurse practitioner, the respiratory therapist, and the pharmacist there,” she said. “But when you are in the operating room as a CRNA, you are the respiratory therapist, the pharmacist, and the ICU physician or nurse practitioner. You take on all those roles when you get into the OR.”

Part of Bria’s coursework currently is learning more than 100 different medications and their side effects and interactions by December in order to master that knowledge before clinical education begins in January.

“Getting a nursing degree is hard, but this is different,” she said. “You must learn this material with the mindset that ‘if I don’t remember this, I could be the reason that harm comes to a patient’.”

Although the role of a CRNA can be daunting, it is also exciting. “I admire the level of responsibility they carry in the OR,” Bria said. “I am excited to think that one day I will be competent enough to carry that responsibility.”

Associate Professor Dwayne Accardo, DNP, APRN, CRNA, FAANA, the concentration coordinator for the Nurse Anesthesiology DNP, said Bria is a model student. “She goes above and beyond with everything she sets her mind to.”

This story was initially published in the Fall 2023 College of Nursing Magazine.