Brett Fadgen has been defying stereotypes and surpassing society’s expectations his entire life.
Born without the lower portion of his right arm, he has never let his disability stop him from pursing his dreams. His career achievements and depth of experience as a professional in his field are nothing short of inspiring.
After college, Fadgen became a paramedic, working for several emergency ambulance services, and a flight paramedic for Stat MedEvac. In this role, Brett treated critically injured patients who were often teetering between life and death, and helped to keep them alive until they arrived at a hospital. Then, Fadgen decided to further his education, becoming a registered nurse (RN) and securing a position in the prestigious Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at UPMC’s Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Still, this wasn’t enough. An avid learner, Fadgen believed he was capable of doing more. He applied and was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesia (CRNA) program.
Because of his disability, Fadgen had to work extremely hard to succeed in the Pitt program, which is nationally recognized as a program that’s academically challenging and clinically rigorous.
“There has never been a nurse anesthetist or an anesthesiology trainee in this entire health system (UPMC), and maybe the world, with a disability that is similar to mine,” Fadgen said. “While I was successful in completing every skill and technique safely with a reasonable accommodation, there was no manual or text to show how to complete these tasks with one arm.”
In addition to program requirements, Fadgen would spend 10 to 20 hours extra per week outside of the classroom at the Ross/Westview EMS airway lab; University of Pittsburgh, Department of Nurse Anesthesia’s simulation lab; and the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research (WISER) facility developing and perfecting his techniques.
WISER is a state of the art multidisciplinary training and research facility, and it is an institute of the University of Pittsburgh. Its purpose is to provide a space where students, paramedics, nurses, nurse anesthetists, physicians and other clinicians have access to training programs that utilize simulation-based education.
Each room provides video and audio monitoring for immediate learning and debriefing from instructors. The rooms allow for instructors to simulate high-stress and high-risk events so students can practice processes quickly and treat patients effectively.
Simulation labs provide individuals with the opportunity to practice their skills in “mock” environments where they have access to all of the equipment they would find in their health-care arena.
While Fadgen had support and encouragement, particularly from his program director/advisor, many were skeptical that he was even capable of becoming a nurse anesthetist. There were concerns about whether or not he was physically able to perform procedures; and even if he was able to perform, could his techniques be deemed as medically safe.
He would prove them all wrong.
“I encountered more obstacles than you could ever imagine,” Fadgen said. “Picture yourself at work and knowing what it takes to provide the safest and best care to patients when stakes are high, and you see a trainee walk into the (operating room) with one arm! There were judgments, but there was also acceptance.”
Throughout Fadgen’s time in the program, he would educate fellow students, faculty members and supervising clinicians about his disability, walking them through the “how and why” behind his techniques and explain how his prosthetics work. Fadgen has five prosthetics that he uses during surgeries and each one serves a different purpose. He worked with Union Orthotics and Prosthetics Co., based in Pittsburgh, to design them.
Needless to say, Fadgen successfully made it through the program, graduated with his degree and has been a practicing CRNA at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for the last seven years. Out of 400-plus CRNAs who work at UPMC, Fadgen is one of only 12 who are credentialed to practice at every single UPMC hospital within Allegheny County.
Despite all of his accomplishments, Fadgen knows the road to becoming a CRNA wasn’t easy. It was paved with lots of questions and concerns. That’s why he has decided to begin publicly advocating for individuals with disabilities. He wants to educate medical professionals on his journey, and he hopes that it can be used as an example to prove that stereotypes don’t have to be broken --- they can be shattered.
His next stop is presenting at the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ spring symposium in Hershey in May. He is going to focus his session on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its impact on employment within the medical field.
In the meantime, you can find Fadgen doing what he does best --- exceeding expectations, caring for patients and setting the standard for CRNAs in Pennsylvania and beyond.