Two Pittsburgh-area Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), Francis Feld and John O'Donnell, were recently honored in Pittsburgh Magazine's 2017 Excellence in Nursing list.
Learn more about these outstanding individuals and their contributions to our profession by viewing the full list here.
The director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program at the University of Pittsburgh has plenty of reasons to be proud: the program consistently ranks as one of the top 10 in the country, it has 100 percent job placement for graduates and there’s access to cutting-edge technology.
But for John O’Donnell, the most fulfilling moments come when one of his students has an “aha moment.”
“I think the most fun I have is seeing people put together complicated or abstract things and actually understanding how they might apply,” says O’Donnell, 56, of Emsworth. “I get to see that every single day. To me, that is super exciting.”
A retired United States Army Nurse Corps Officer, O’Donnell has practiced at UPMC Presbyterian-Montefiore Hospital and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. He earned his nursing degree at then-Carlow College, was a member of the first class of Pitt’s nurse anesthesia program and received his Doctorate of Public Health in 2009.
O’Donnell, husband of Melinda and father of three children, who all attended or currently attend Pitt, has served in his role as program director since 1995.
Since 1998, Pitt’s master’s program in nurse anesthesia has been ranked in the top 10 schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report; in 2016, it took the top honor; today, it’s at No. 4.
O’Donnell attributes much of the attention to the visibility of faculty in the field; “tremendous support” within the university’s School of Nursing; and availability of educational resources, particularly Pitt’s Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education and Research (WISER), a world-class multidisciplinary training and research facility.
“We are really fortunate to be at the heart of a new educational method that is sweeping the world and which is now recognized as necessary for training of healthcare professionals, especially those who do procedures and highly technical skills,” he says.
Simulation technology is at the heart of O’Donnell’s scholarly work. He also serves as WISER’s associate director, speaks around the world on simulation methodology and is co-author of the iSIM (Improving Simulation Instructional Methods) course offered around the world.
“Every single one of my students does around 900 anesthetics and 2,700 hours of work in the clinical setting before they leave,” he says. “I can’t guarantee every student is going to see an allergic reaction or a massive trauma. The only way we can make sure every student is ready for those experiences is to give them a similar experience in a safe environment where no patient is at risk.”
O’Donnell is advancing the field of simulation technology as a consultant for LUMIS CORP., a team developing an augmented reality simulation system called Body Explorer.
O’Donnell likens it to a Nintendo Wii, where the user works on a manipulatable image projected onto a body to take a pulse, ventilate or perform a variety of other procedures.
“You can peel back layers of the anatomy, and when you got down into the chest, the heart is actually beating and moving just like it would in a real person,” O’Donnell says.
“When you inject medicine into the IV, you can see the heart change related to how the medicine was administered. You can put in a breathing tube and see the breath sounds change.”
Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob, dean of Pitt’s School of Nursing and one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Excellence in Nursing panel members, says O’Donnell is widely recognized as someone helping drive advances in his field.
“John is a very passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic educator,” she says. “We are very proud of him, the program and faculty he leads.”
Francis Feld has worked everywhere from professional football stadiums to makeshift medical tents.
Feld, 63, is a certified registered nurse anesthetist at UPMC Passavant Hospital specializing in thoracic anesthesia, a paramedic for Ross West View EMS, medical group supervisor for the Allegheny County Hazardous Materials Medical Response Team and a supervisory nurse specialist for the Federal PA-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team.
Needless to say, he appreciates a challenge.
The need to constantly adapt to new scenarios and stay on top of an ever-changing field is what drew Feld to nursing.
“It’s nice to go to work knowing you have to bring your A game every day,” he says. “You have to be able to adapt and think ahead.”
Prior to entering the nursing field, Feld, who lives in Ohio Township with wife Christine, worked as a certified athletic trainer at Center High School in Beaver County (now Central Valley), the University of Pittsburgh and with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I was looking for something else that could give me different options,” says Feld, the son of a World War II Navy nurse. “One of the things about nursing that was always interesting to me was that you could move around and work in different areas of the hospital and that would make you a more well-rounded professional. You could really expand your horizons and never get bored.”
In addition to his bachelor’s degree in history and master’s in sports administration from the University of Pittsburgh, Feld earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Duquesne University, a master’s in nurse anesthesia from LaRoche College and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Carlow University; he also spent 16 years at UPMC Mercy Hospital working in cardiac and trauma anesthesia. For the last five years at Passavant, he’s worked primarily with patients undergoing lung and esophageal surgery.
In addition to the daily challenge of his work, Feld appreciates his employer’s flexibility when it comes to the demands of his role as a member of the federal disaster medical assistance team. UPMC is “incredibly supportive” when he is deployed to assist in emergency situations, he says. Feld has been sent to help with recovery for Hurricanes Gustav, Rita, Lee, Sandy, Matthew and Harvey.
His work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had a profound impact on his life, both personally and professionally, he says.
“That was one of the life-changing events,” he says. “I was down there for nine days, working about 18 hours a day. You learn that we worry about a lot of things in life that really aren’t important enough to worry about when there are other people who are suffering. They would love to have the problems we sometimes think are major obstacles for us. Sometimes, their entire existence is nothing but survival.”
Feld also is a regional faculty member for the American Heart Association and teaches in ACLS (advanced cardiovascular life support), PALS (pediatric advanced life support), and BLS (basic life support) in the WISER center at Pitt. His work as an educator has earned him the appreciation of many former students, including Keith Gorse, assistant professor and clinical coordinator at Duquesne University’s Department of Athletic Training.
Feld taught Gorse when the latter was a student in the athletic training program at Pitt. Gorse says Feld taught him, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
“I expect myself to do my best because I know Fran does the same,” Gorse says. “He’s a very honest person. He tells it like it is. If you’re doing something right, he lets you know. If you’re doing something wrong, he lets you know and teaches you how to make it right. That’s what makes him such a good teacher — he’s very direct and thorough.”
Gorse says Feld’s dedication to excellence in his field makes him a “huge figure in the healthcare profession in the City of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.”
“Fran wears the most hats of anyone I’ve ever known,” Gorse says.