Gary Clark, who founded Webster University’s nurse anesthesia program in 1997 and is currently the program’s associate director and a nurse anesthesia professor, has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.
When asked what he’ll miss about the program, Clark didn’t miss a beat. “The day-to-day contact with students. That’s what I enjoy the most.”
In particular, interactions with students at clinical sites as they start to practice what they’ve learned in the classroom have a special place in his heart. “That’s where you see their growth,” he said. “They get to the clinical site and they say, ‘I’m surprised at how much I’ve learned in the year that I’ve been here.’”
Reacting to a critical market need in the St. Louis region, Clark approached College of Arts & Sciences and Department of Biological Sciences administrators in 1996 about starting a Nurse Anesthesia program. Besides being a practicing nurse anesthetist, he had previously taught in and helped direct similar programs.
“Webster was very receptive,” he recalled. A year later, 10 students were enrolled in the program’s first class. Clark spent a lot of time in 1997 observing students and faculty, “making sure that everything that needed to be taught was being taught.” His close attention paid off: That same year, the Nurse Anesthesia program earned initial accreditation from the Council on Accreditation for Nurse Anesthesia Programs.
“We want students to be at an advantage.”
Webster’s Nurse Anesthesia program, which takes two and a half years to complete, currently enrolls 20 students per class. Around 80 applicants vie for those spots annually, 40 or 50 of whom are granted personal interviews. Applicants with extensive science backgrounds have the most chance of being chosen. “We want students to be at an advantage,” Clark said. “The idea is to bring them in to be successful, not to flunk them out.”
In addition to a challenging schedule of classroom and clinical work, the Nurse Anesthesia program is one of a handful in the country that require students to develop and execute a research study (master’s thesis). “It’s a very high-quality educational experience,” Clark summed up.
“Webster should be very proud of the quality of the individuals that are graduated from here,” he said. “The program does a great job in educating them in the basic sciences and integrating anesthesia practice and techniques, and I hear nothing but compliments from many of the long-time providers.”
Well-trained nurse anesthetists are an absolute necessity, Clark said. “It’s such a high-acuity practice. We use very potent drugs to take patients to a level near death and bring them back to consciousness.”
Nurse anesthetists now widely accepted
Clark said that he has seen many changes in the 30 years he has been a nurse anesthesia professor. Having a nurse anesthetist rather than a doctor administer anesthesia has become widely accepted, to the point that a patient has a 70 percent chance of having anesthesia administered by a nurse anesthetist. And because of advances in medication, equipment and training, catastrophic events associated with anesthesia have become almost non-existent.
Clark will continue to practice as a nurse anesthetist part-time in retirement. In addition, he’ll make plenty of time for other activities: golf, hunting, fishing, teaching outdoor emergency care courses for the National Ski Patrol, and enjoying his six grandchildren.
Clark, who has earned professor emeritus status, also will serve as a consultant for Webster’s Nurse Anesthesia program, which is hoping to start a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program in the near future.
A special project will be attempting to raise alumni awareness of the needs of Webster’s Nurse Anesthesia program. To that end, he’ll be seeking contributions to a nurse anesthesia scholarship that has been set up in his name.
About his time at Webster, Clark said, “It’s been a lot of fun. It was a challenge to put this program together, and it’s my legacy.” And the most gratifying part, he added, has been “seeing students performing well and making sure that patients get the best care.”