Nurse Anesthesia in Virginia

A Brief History of Nurse Anesthesia in Virginia

The art and profession of Nurse Anesthesia can be traced back to 1877, when Sister Mary Bernard administered anesthesia at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. She is the first identifiable Nurse Anesthetist; documents that are available tend to lead one to believe that Nurse Anesthetists were frequent in the Catholic Hospital System.

The “Mother of Nurse Anesthesia” is Alice Magaw, who with other Nurse Anesthetists administered anesthesia at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Another leader in the field of Nurse Anesthesia was Agatha Hodgins. Her career in anesthesia started at Lakeside Hospital in Ohio providing the anesthesia for Dr. George W. Crile in 1908. Her visions were far-reaching for Nurse Anesthesia. The first formal postgraduate school in anesthesia was established under her guidance. Agatha new that a strong profession would need the cooperation and work of all Nurse Anesthetists – so in 1923 she organized the first Nurse Anesthesia meeting and that humble beginning became the backbone of what is now the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) with over 28,000 members. In 1931 as the profession grew, individual state associations were formed as arms of the AANA. Today the AANA includes all 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

In 1921, Agnes Ferrell graduated from Johnston-Willis School of Nursing in Richmond, Virginia. She became the Operating Room supervisor and was highly regarded by the surgeons there. The chief surgeon requested that she study anesthesia under Dr. I.H.Goldman. She became Virginia’s first Nurse Anesthetist.

Around the same time another outstanding Virginia Nurse, Minnie Freese, graduated from the University of Virginia School of Nursing on September 19, 1926, and was asked to consider becoming a student anesthetist. She accepted the challenge and started her anesthesia studies on October 1st 1926. Both these pioneers in Virginia Nurse Anesthesia History contributed substantially to the founding of the Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1934. Virginia was the 8th State in the Country to form a state association.

The first standardized testing for Nurse Anesthetists was in 1945 with 92 candidates taking the exam. In 1944 the 1st two African–Americans applied for membership in the AANA and were accepted. 1947 saw membership open to male nurse anesthetists and also in 1947 was the beginning of nurse anesthesia training in the armed forces.

One of the oldest schools of Nurse Anesthesia was at DePaul Hospital in Norfolk. In Virginia there were at one time nurse anesthesia schools in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Fairfax, Clifton Forge, Richmond, and Charlottesville. Today there are 3 programs in the state. Virginia Commonwealth University/Medical College of Virginia in Richmond offers both the Masters of Science in Nurse Anesthesia (MSNA) and the Doctorate in Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP); Old Dominion University offers a Masters Program in Nurse Anesthesia; and Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth is the Center for the Navy’s Anesthesia Program.

Nurse Anesthesia has made great strides over the last 100 years because of its dedication to quality anesthesia, education, nursing care and research. The official seal of Nurse Anesthesia is “The Care of the Sleeper”.


AANA, A 50 Year Retrospective of the AANA”, 1981

Bankert, Marianne,”Watchful Care, A History of American Nurse Anesthetists.”, Continuum, New York, 1989

White, Garbee, Farrell and Ingram, “Fifty Years of Excellence, Highlights of the Past – The Challenge of the Future”, VANA 1984.