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CRNA Week History Series: Celebrating Those Often Overlooked

January 22-28, 2023, marks AANA’s CRNA week. This is a week of celebration and appreciation for all of those in the nurse anesthesia field. Since the 19th century, nurses have been administering anesthesia in major wars and at home. Though the practice has come a long way since then, the core motivation remains the same—saving lives. Below is a list of trailblazing nurse anesthetists that deserve recognition!


Anne Penland
Credit: Asheville Citizen-Times

Anne Penland: 

A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Anne Penland is an essential figure of nurse anesthesiology. Born in 1885 to a prominent banker, Penland became a nurse and one of the first graduates of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s nurse anesthesia program and volunteered to help overseas during WW1. There she became the first nurse anesthetist to serve in the Great War. Working alongside the British, Penland ran into limitations due to British regulations on anesthesia administration.  Nonetheless, she administered anesthesia to patients alongside surgeons in field hospitals and gained a medal for her hard work. The British Royal Medical Corps then decided to employ Penland as an instructor for UK nurses in the field of anesthesia. After her service, she returned to New York and became chief anesthetist at Columbia Presbyterian until her retirement. 


Agnes McGee
Credit: LinkedIn

Agnes McGee: 

In 1909, almost 20 years before the first medical anesthesia program was created, Agnes McGee created an anesthetics program for nurses in Portland, Oregon. At the time, McGee was a recent nursing school graduate of St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing. She had gone abroad to train in anesthesia in Germany and settled in Portland, Oregon. McGee noticed that Portland area hospital interns tasked with administering anesthesia to patients had begun to rebel. They had wanted to learn other skills. Thus, McGee formed a 6-month curriculum to train nurses in the field of anesthesia. Nineteen programs quickly followed suit around the United States. Agnes McGee would go on to receive AANA’s Award of Appreciation in 1953 and the program she founded would continue until 1956. 


Goldie D. Brangman, CRNA, MEd, MBA
Credit: AANA

Goldie D. Brangman, CRNA, MEd, MBA:

The only African American AANA President, Goldie Brangman, CRNA, is a very influential figure in nurse anesthesia. Brangman graduated from Harlem Hospital Center’s nursing program in the 1940s and went on to co-found and direct Harlem Hospital School of Nurse Anesthesia in 1951. In 1958, she joined the medical team at Harlem Hospital tasked with performing an extremely difficult (but successful) surgery on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his attack. She remained at Harlem Hospital until her retirement in 1985. The New York State Association of Nurse Anesthetists gives out the Goldie Brangman Award in her honor yearly. 


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Nelson, Luann and Sandra M. Ouellette. “An Unsung Hero: Anne Penland, Nurse Anesthetist.” AANA. April 2018. https://www.aana.com/docs/default-source/aana-journal-web-documents-1/journal-online-content/online-content-imagining-in-time-an-unsung-hero-anne-penland-nurse-anesthetist-april-2018.pdf?sfvrsn=fb505fb1_8. 

Klein, Roger, and Angela Kendrick. The History of Anesthesia in Oregon. The Oregon Trail Publishing Company, 2004. 

Walker, Angelina. “CRNA Legend Goldie Brangman Shares Story of Treating Dr. Martin Luther King.” Nurse.org. January 2020. https://nurse.org/articles/nurse-anesthetist-crna-goldie-brangman-saved-MLK/ 

“The Goldie Brangman Award.” NYSANA. https://www.nysana.com/the-goldie-brangman-award