May 2013

Alumni Profile:
Roxana Sasse, '92, DNP, '11

Kenrick Cato

Roxana Sasse is a nurse anesthetist at the Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island.  She served as director of CUSON’s Alumni Association from 2000 to 2003 and two terms as its president from 2004-2010.  Honored with the first Young Distinguished Alumni Award from the Nursing School in 2001, she is an associate editor for Clinical Scholars Review and returns frequently to the School of Nursing as an Alumni Association volunteer, guest lecturer, and supporter of current students. She has taught classes in the anesthesia department at CUSON as well. Sasse will receive the Columbia Alumni Association Medal in May in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the school.

Q.  What was your career path before you came to Columbia?

A: I always wanted to be a nurse.  When I graduated high school there were only two career choices available to most women: Nursing or teaching. I chose nursing. I graduated from a diploma nursing school in 1969 and immediately entered a nurse anesthesia program graduating with a certificate in Nurse Anesthesia in 1971. While employed as a Certified Nurse Anesthetist, I entered a community college and an advisor suggested I apply to Connecticut College. I was accepted and graduated with a Zoology major in 1976.

Q: You’ve always worked as a nurse anesthetist. Why did you choose that area of nursing?

A: For me, nurse anesthesia seemed like the most challenging field in nursing. Every patient presents a different challenge. Administering anesthesia is never a cookie cutter scenario, each situation is totally different. The type of anesthesia a patient receives is dictated by their health problem, the surgery they’ve had, their age, and many other variables.  It’s totally tailored to that patient. I also loved the intensity. There are certainly scary moments when you are faced with life and death situations. It’s not enough to give 100 percent – to do a good job you have to give even more. You leave your life at the door when you walk in and that patient consumes your entire attention.

Q. You received your Masters at Columbia and then returned to Columbia Nursing two decades later to purse your doctorate, even though you lived in another state. Why did you take this path?

A: We lived in London for four years where my husband was stationed as Coast Guard officer for the American Embassy. I hadn’t worked while living abroad, and when we came back to New York, I was eager to return to being a nurse anesthetist. One Sunday, I saw a CUSON advertisement in The New York Times for a reception to learn how nurses could re-enter the job market. Fast forward to two years later, I received a Master's degree in nurse anesthesia. This was the third best occasion in my life. Number one was marrying my husband, Rick, and number two was becoming the mother of our wonderful daughter, Gail.

After receiving my Masters, Rick and I moved to Providence in 1996 and I worked in the anesthesia department of Roger Williams Medical Center. But I still had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to return to the classroom. After getting accepted into the DNP program, I spent two years taking the train to New York from Providence and renting a room in an apartment in New York for two or three days each week. The rest of the week I worked in Providence part time at Roger Williams as a nurse anesthetist.  It was grueling but worth it. Today I am more attuned to evidence-based medicine, and members of the healthcare team ask for my expertise on issues which never would have happened before I got my DNP.

Q. You are a frequent guest at alumni events and have held leadership roles in the school’s Alumni Association for years. What aspects of the school most interest you?

A: My devotion and passion to Columbia has always been very deep. CUSON gave me a connection to my life and my profession. I thrived in the environment where every day there was something new and exciting.
When we first moved to Providence, two local alums invited me to a mini-reunion in the area. That’s when I really became involved in the future of the school. I attended the school’s annual alumni meeting and learned more about scope of practice and other issues facing the profession.  I became very passionate about the future of nursing. CUSON alumni are very intelligent people who enter nursing from many successful first careers and are helping shape patient care. I want everyone to see nurses as I do: As leaders, researchers, scholars, and game-changers in our global society.

Q. The idea of receiving anesthesia can be a frightening concept for patients. How did your education at Columbia Nursing equip you with the tools to reassure your patients before a very vulnerable experience?

A: A Certified Nurse Anesthetist is highly educated in the science and art of nursing. My CUSON education taught me the how to collaborate as a CRNA with other members of the health care team to provide the best evidence-based medicine to my patients. I learned how to utilize research tools, employ critical thinking skills, and provide the best patient safety measures to each of my patients. In each clinical scenario, I convey confidence to my patients that they are in safe hands.

My patients tell me all the time that they are afraid. I tell them it’s okay to be scared, and that I am also scared when I have surgery. But I reassure them that I’ve been doing this for many years, that they are under the care of an excellent surgeon, one which I would send members of my own family to, and they are probably safer there than driving out of the hospital parking lot. I tell them that they are going to fall asleep and wake up in the recovery room and that they will probably experience some pain, but that we will be able to manage it.

Q. What advice do you have for CUSON grads about to head out into the real world?

A: Many doors will be available for you to open after coming out of this program. You are going to be considered an expert in your future position.  Position yourself on committees and do the best work you can with a positive attitude. Give whatever you can to give back to CUSON either financially or through volunteering.  Be the leader you were groomed to be.