James Madison University

JMU Alumna Will Knock You Out

By: Brett Seekford '16
Posted: March 24, 2016

 Amanda Rivera (’08) is probably hard to miss at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Her position as a nurse anesthetist comes with great responsibility, as she works with surgeons and anesthesiologists to decide the best anesthetic to use for specific patients. She has to determine whether patients are prepared for the drugs associated with the chosen anesthetic as well as consider postoperative pain. While her job isn’t easy, she finds it rewarding and cites her time at James Madison University as pivotal to her current success.

Rivera, like many college students looking forward to graduation, weighed her career options in the fall of 2008. Coming from a family of medical professionals, she was confident that she wanted to follow in their footsteps after graduating from JMU. Speaking with her mother, an operating room nurse, about the job prospects for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), her interest was piqued. Rivera’s subsequent clinical experience would prove to be the driving force in her pursuit of graduate education.

Rivera (right) with classmates during clinicals at Duke University

After a stint as a nurse in George Washington University Hospital’s intensive care unit, Rivera took a job in a community hospital’s recovery room in Woodbridge, Virginia. This setting reaffirmed her earlier interest in anesthesia.

“I learned at my job in Woodbridge that every patient and every surgery presents a myriad of unique challenges to the anesthetic provided and I was fascinated,” she said. “I eventually picked up another job in a larger and more critical recovery room at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, where I was able to interact with even more nurse anesthetists who persuaded me to pursue my dream.”

Rivera applied to several schools across the country and was eventually accepted by Duke University, a top-ranked program. Starting classes in January 2013, she was quickly introduced to the rigors of the graduate program and the work involved in nurse anesthesia.

“Duke allowed me to gain exposure to the practice of anesthesia at various institutions and in a number of different specialties,” she said. “By graduation in May 2015, I had rotated through twelve different facilities across North Carolina, including large university hospitals like Duke and UNC, military hospitals and smaller community hospitals in rural towns.”

Her time at Duke University opened many doors for her: “It was there that I was fortunate enough to work with new and seasoned CRNAs who helped cultivate my skill and growth in this industry.”

Rivera’s return to MedStar Washington Hospital Center as a nurse anesthetist since completing her master’s degree has been both challenging and exciting. Her daily role remains ever-changing, leading her from treating healthy patients to treating patients in major trauma surgery. “Beginning my first job as a CRNA at a hospital that I had previously worked at, and with staff that I already knew, made the transition much smoother,” she said. “Every day I am challenged in a new way, but it is exciting to finally be working in the field that I have worked towards all these years.”

She said that she owes much of her success to her undergraduate experience at JMU. “JMU is, of course, where it all began,” she said. “Without a foundation in nursing, I would not be where I am today.  It is also the place where I discovered my love for pharmacology and physiology, two subjects very critical to the practice of nurse anesthesia.”