Last class of Memorial’s anesthesia program set to graduate

Last class of Memorial’s anesthesia program set to graduate

The 50th anniversary graduating class at the Memorial School of Nurse Anesthesia. The school’s final class will graduate later this month.

PAWTUCKET – The loss of Memorial Hospital in 2017 triggered plenty of aftershocks, but a little-publicized impact of that closure was that it forced the eventual shutting down of its School of Nurse Anesthesia, a more than 50-year-old institution with a proud tradition locally.

The last class of that school, first started in 1966 and moved to Kent Hospital after the Pawtucket hospital closed, will graduate on Oct. 25.

Mark Foster, program director since 1993, said he had no choice but to move forward with closing the school because the programs there were not transferable. The only way he could get permission to move the program to Kent was to agree to get the existing students to graduation. At the time of the hospital closure, the nine members of the program who are about to graduate were just beginning, he said, and were worried about whether they would graduate.

“We’re very thankful that we were able to finish them,” Foster said of the “excellent class” preparing to graduate. “That’s what we care most about.”

Other aspects of Memorial, such as its obstetrics department, received far more publicity, said Foster, but this small but powerful program has helped change the world. More than 250 students who started in Pawtucket have gone on to work in every state in the union. Every graduate passed the national certification exam, and the school has a 100 percent employment rate at graduation.

“We’re very proud,” he said. “The program’s provided a great service to the people of the Blackstone Valley; a lot stayed here as well.”

Keith Macksoud, the only other full-time employee for the school as assistant program director, who also serves on the Lincoln Town Council, said the program went through many changes over the years before the closure of Memorial in 2017 led to its leaders voluntarily closing the school. There are currently only 121 accredited nurse anesthesia programs in the U.S., and Rhode Island was fortunate enough to have two of these programs, he said, Memorial’s and the St. Joseph School of Nurse Anesthesia in North Providence, which is still running strong.

Macksoud said the St. Joe’s program director is Anne Tierney, a graduate of the program at Memorial and previously its assistant program director and faculty member. Her assistant program director, Elena Litmanovich, is also a Pawtucket graduate.

Memorial’s program is accredited by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Council on Accreditation, and under Foster’s leadership, it maintained maximum accreditation status throughout its history, said Foster.

Memorial’s anesthesiology program was always a small one, said Foster, with an average of nine graduates. Today the trend is toward large university-based programs. Though he said he has concerns about the profession going forward, there are more than enough institutions left to fill the gap left by this school’s closure.

The school has maintained a traditional certificate-based program, a 24-month course of studies to get graduates a certificate in nurse anesthesia.

Many of the 250 or so graduates of this school are working in underserved areas across the country, said Foster. He expressed gratification at being able to help these young people meet their professional goals.

“It’s been a real privilege for me to be the program director,” he said.

At the Oct. 25 commencement, Foster will receive a certificate of special recognition from Congressman Jim Langevin for his years of dedicated service to the school.