College of Nursing Celebrates the Career of Wanda Wilson

Feb. 18, 2018

Asked to provide some adjectives that describe her friend Wanda Wilson, clinical nursing professor and director of UC’s Nurse Anesthesia program Beth Ann Clayton surely spoke for hundreds of her nursing colleagues: “Professional, educated, focused, driven, and sophisticated” said Clayton, who could have gone on for much longer.

Wilson has shaped the careers of countless people in the nurse anesthesia field, and many of those who she helped and inspired most, gathered in December to celebrate her impact upon her retirement as CEO of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).

To commemorate Wilson’s tremendous contributions, the College of Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesia Program Alumni Advisory Council established the Wanda O. Wilson Lectureship through the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists (OSANA). The lectureship will support speakers with special expertise to further the knowledge base of the nurse anesthesia community throughout the state. The gesture greatly touched Wilson.

“I’m humbled and honored to be recognized by my college and the Nurse Anesthesia Department in this way,” she said. “‘Thank you’ is not enough to express how much this means to me.”

Few careers could be more deserving of such an honor, but as with nurses in general, it is not in Wilson’s nature to be comfortable in the spotlight.

“As a person of quiet demeanor, Wanda went about her work with little fanfare,” said Carolyn Nicholson, a former classmate and faculty colleague of Wilson’s. “If faced with an obstacle, she accepted the task at hand and simply did the best she could.”

Skills in High Demand

That dutiful professionalism manifested itself over the years in a variety of ways that epitomized what a nurse anesthetist should be.

“Clinically, the students who were fortunate enough to be assigned with her for a surgical case always saw a nurse anesthetist who was confident and prepared,” Nicholson said. “She accepted any assignment, and even challenged herself by seeking out the most difficult cases so she could be prepared for any emergency.”

Wilson’s reputation as an enormously skilled anesthetist was established early, and patients and surgeons frequently requested to have her assigned to their cases. Everyone knew that the way she went about her work was also setting a necessarily high standard while providing testimony to the value of ongoing education to advance the practice of nurse anesthesia.

“She expected much from her students, but the reward was always worth the effort,” said Nicholson, alluding to the “Wilson standard.” “While praise from Wanda for a job well done was something every student desired, it was only given if truly earned.”

Beth Ann Clayton, director of Nurse Anesthesia Program and assistant professor (left), and Judy Audas, UC nurse anesthesia alumni and current OSANA president , flank Wanda Wilson at the December 2017 celebration of Wilson’s career.

Wilson’s greatest influence on College of Nursing students came through her actions. Her clinical responsibilities, at which she excelled, were never compromised by her academic drive, which would lead to a total of four UC degrees — bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing earned in the 1990s on top of a general science degree obtained via UC’s Evening College in 1986. Her growing activity in her field’s professional organizations also resonated with observant students.

“Wanda’s involvement in our state and national anesthesia associations served as a perfect stepping stone for our students as they were encouraged to become educated and informed about issues that would ultimately affect their careers,” said Nicholson.

A Natural Role Model

Leaders don’t typically set out to become role models. It just happens naturally by steadily doing what needs to be done in a professional manner, and so it has been for Wilson in a variety of tangible ways, according to Clayton.

“For all those who look up to her, Wanda has demonstrated how to provide optimal patient care at all times,” Clayton said. “They have seen her serve as a patient advocate, strive to improve nurse anesthesia practice, and continue to learn. Wanda has shown them that if you expect to have a seat at the table, then you must present yourself in a professional manner at all times.

“She has been a role model in terms of being prepared for all that you do, whether it’s in patient care, educating others, or developing policy. And she has displayed a profound responsibility for her practice — ensuring that she is informed so that she can educate others in the very best practice techniques.”

Nicholson agrees, and emphasizes the extraordinary value that comes with having such a remarkable personal success story within the College of Nursing and Nurse Anesthesia Program.

“She has absolutely been a role model to many of us, showing that it is possible to achieve what may seem impossible,” Nicholson said. “I have witnessed and seen the growth of a young, shy woman from West Virginia who has never wavered in her dream of becoming the best nurse anesthetist she could — but she took it further. She realized the importance of continuing advanced education in her quest. What an effect this has had on our students!”

Keeping Up With Changing Times

For Wilson, staying current has been a passion and a bit of a challenge given the ever-changing nature of her field.

“Our profession has worked diligently to improve anesthesia care for all patients,” Wilson said. “Over the years, we have made improvements in education, technology, medication and anesthetic agents, equipment and monitors. Every aspect of anesthesia has evolved.”

So Wilson evolved, too, as all nurse anesthetists must if they want to retain their value. And she knows she didn’t do it alone. Her school and her UC family have been active partners and guides along the way.

“My UC education added to the foundation for my successful career,” she said. “I was encouraged, supported and mentored by many selfless friends, colleagues and faculty members. They saw characteristics in me that I could not see. With their influence and guidance, my career path was shaped and formed. I became a successful servant leader in the nurse anesthesia profession that led to a successful professional path for me.”

Wilson saw each career milestone as a highlight for that particular moment in time; once she achieved a goal, a mentor would direct her to the next one. She would go on to become program administrator of UC’s Nurse Anesthesia Program; president of OSANA; and president, executive director and CEO of AANA.

“Serving as AANA CEO was the pinnacle for me,” Wilson said. “One of my greatest rewards was to be able to give back to the nurse anesthesia profession that gave me so much. I have had an amazing career.”


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