Mentoring program key for minority students

2009 ICA Winner, Wallena Gould

As a student in a university nurse anesthesia program in 2003, Wallena Gould never recalled seeing a single minority faculty member. She grew increasingly concerned watching some minority students struggle to excel. Gould packaged her observations about minorities into a required poster presentation to her class and highlighted the statistic that troubled her most: minority practitioners comprised just 6 percent of the nurse anesthesia profession in the U.S.

To reverse the trend, she hypothesized that mentoring would be key to the success of minority students within the profession and to those considering it. For her creative, compassionate and relentless efforts to bring change to an entire profession, Gould was chosen as one of just six winners nationwide in the 2009 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award. She received the coveted Top National Prize in the award’s advanced practice nursing category.

Unable to find a mentoring group and still a student, Gould began mentoring her fellow students at La Salle University, in Philadelphia, and even reached out to minority students at Columbia University and University of Maryland. In 2008, balancing a successful career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and family obligations, the former Ernst & Young auditor launched the nonprofit Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program ( to inform, empower and mentor underprivileged minority students. Her efforts have primed students for successful careers in nurse anesthesia.

Since her time as a student, Gould has mentored approximately 2,000 CRNAs or CRNA candidates, including high school students, resulting in an estimated 80 minority CRNAs joining the profession since 2003. In 2008 alone, she mentored, provided advice or taught more than 900 minority students – all on her own time and at her expense – in events ranging from technical training to educational workshops and intimate dinners in her home celebrating the perseverance and accomplishments of graduating minority nurse anesthesia students. One educational event in 2008 attracted 180 attendees from eight states and also featured leaders in the profession. Another event, an anesthesia airway workshop, allowed over 50 new nurse anesthesia students, ICU nurses and nursing students to experience hands-on learning about airway equipment and anesthesia tools-of-the-trade.

CRNAs provide anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists and other qualified healthcare professionals and practice in every setting in which anesthesia is delivered, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

“Wallena Gould has changed lives, fueled visions and made a highly technical and challenging profession a desired destination for minority nurses. And she’s done it at tremendous personal sacrifice and expense.  Her efforts to encourage, train and mentor these students will ensure that the medical field has nurse anesthetists who are as dedicated as she is moving into the future,”says Wendell Mobley, who directs Cherokee Uniforms’ charitable and scholarship programs.

The award is granted by Cherokee Uniforms to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others’ lives. This is the seventh year the leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel has honored inspirational caregivers.

Gould was nominated by Wendy Agard, who calls Gould her mentor. “Wallena’s commitment to this program is unbelievable. She works full time during the day and spends her evenings and weekends planning events. She is a wonderful mother and is dedicated in her quest to educate and mentor others. She is always open and available for guidance, questions and genuine encouragement. To know her is simply to be inspired!”

As the Top National Winner, Gould receives an all-expense-paid trip to a 2010 medical conference of her choice, annual membership to a clinical association, a $500 donation to a nonprofit of her choice, a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Cherokee Footwear worth more than $1,000, a Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award trophy, and a 14K gold-plated commemorative pin.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, more than 7,000 healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Advanced Practice Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of Cherokee representatives and past Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award recipients evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurse’s House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Proceeds from Cherokee Uniforms products support healthcare professionals through initiatives such as the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, scholarships for students enrolled in nursing school, and an inspirational film for nurses. Cherokee Uniforms will be accepting nominations for the 2010 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award beginning March 1 through May 31, 2010. For further information on the award, please visit You can also congratulate Wallena on her win in the comment section here.

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