The American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) honored Lt. Col. Laura Wiggins, DNP, CRNA, with the Daniel D. Vigness Federal Political Director Award at its Mid-Year Assembly, held in Washington, D.C. on April 2-6. Wiggins, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), is staff CRNA with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh and chief nurse for the critical care transport team in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
“It is an honor to receive the Federal Political Director Award. Promoting and safeguarding the profession and helping to work towards regulations and legislation that allow CRNAs to practice at their full scope has been both an honor and a privilege,” Wiggins said. “However, all my work could not be accomplished without the support of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists and my employers. I thank them for providing me with the resources and time to build the relationships that have allowed me to be a successful advocate for all CRNAs.”
Wiggins has been the Federal Political Director (FPD) for the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists (PANA) for the past two years and serves on its Board of Trustees. In 2019 she helped lead more than 180 CRNAs and students enrolled in nurse anesthesiology programs to lobby in Harrisburg on behalf of the profession. She is the former Chief Nurse for the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and former Critical Care Air Transport Team member and has been deployed to support numerous international situations throughout her career.
According to her nominator, Wiggins is a natural leader with a passion for nurse anesthesia. “Whether leading a medical team as the anesthesia director for military operations in Kyrgyzstan, or providing obstetric anesthesia in Pittsburgh, Laura carries herself with a sense of dignity and skill that reflects the best of our profession.”
In addition, she was lauded for her hands-on leadership early in the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her nomination, weeks before Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf even issued a formal stay-at-home order for the commonwealth, the PANA board began researching options to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to its members. Wiggins relied on her military expertise to review mask options and determine the best fit for PANA to provide to members to keep them safe.
“Laura knew early on how important it was for PANA to not disrupt the supply chain already working on PPE for local hospitals and other facilities around Pennsylvania,” cited her nomination. “Therefore, she spearheaded a discussion with a small 3D printing company in southwestern Pennsylvania. Wiggins began to work with the co-owner of the company to design a 3D-printed mask that would keep our members safe. Laura Wiggins oversaw all of the details, even recruiting a biochemist and an engineer from Stanley Black & Decker to support the cause. After numerous back-and-forth phone calls, texts, virtual calls, and prototype designs, the mask was ready to offer to members as a complimentary benefit. In the initial two hours of sending the e-mail to alert members about the free product offering, PANA received over 400 requests. When completed, PANA shipped over 1,200 PPE masks around the state within four weeks, and this was largely due to the work of Lt. Col Laura Wiggins.”
She is a clinical instructor at the University of Pittsburgh Nurse Anesthesia Program for various courses, including Difficult Airway Course; Regional Anesthesia; and Obstetrics Anesthesia. As a critical care nurse in the Air Force Reserves, Wiggins directly supervises more than 60 medical military personnel while managing all nursing services and flight member activities. In addition, she is an independent contractor with Anesthesiology Services Network, providing anesthesia services for a Level One Trauma Center with 24 operating rooms and diverse areas, including neurosurgery, vascular, thoracic, orthopedics, general, gynecology, pediatrics, trauma, and obstetrics.
Wiggins received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Pennsylvania State University in State College, and a master’s degree in nursing with a specialization in nurse anesthesia area from Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. She earned a Doctor of Nurse Practice degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
As advanced practice nurses, CRNAs are members of one of the most trusted professions according to Gallup. CRNAs provide anesthesia care across all settings and in all patient populations and are the primary anesthesia providers in rural and underserved areas and on the battlefield in forward surgical teams.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurse anesthetists across the country have been essential in addressing the deadliest part of the disease in addition to providing top-of-the-line anesthesia care. They have served as experts in airway management, hemodynamic monitoring, management of patients on ventilators, and overall management of critically ill patients.
About the Daniel D. Vigness Federal Political Director Award
The Federal Political Director of the Year Award, established in 2001, was renamed the Daniel D. Vigness Federal Political Director Award in 2013 in tribute and memory of its first winner. It is presented annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of the national healthcare agenda of CRNAs by coordinating grassroots CRNA involvement at the state level or through special contributions to the federal political process.