Brett Clay, DNP, CRNA, APRN, doesn’t strive to excel in his roles as charge CRNA, clinician, educator, mentor, and active TANA member for the accolades, but he received them just the same when he was named the 2022 Patty Cornwell Practitioner of the Year Award winner at this year’s TANA Annual Meeting.

Voted on annually by the TANA Board and given to a TANA member who has made a significant contribution to nurse anesthesia in Tennessee, the award recognizes “excellence in anesthesia practice as a clinician, educator and/or researcher.” Brett has checked the excellence box consistently throughout his 12-career as a CRNA.

In his present role as charge CRNA at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), Brett assists the attending in charge of running the operating room board and serves as a resource not only to other CRNAs, but to student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs) and residents. He is recognized by both his healthcare colleagues and his patients for his signature levity.

“I try my best to bring a lightheartedness to work each day,” said Brett, who has been at VUMC since 2010. “Each day, I’m dealing with individuals who may be having the most stressful day of their life. If I can make them smile and take their mind off the seriousness of the situation, even if just for a moment, that is a success to me.”

Brett also dedicates himself to doing his part to prepare future CRNAs. He maintains a faculty appointment at Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia (MTSA) where he has served on the MTSA DNAP Project Dissertation Committee, mentoring students in the successful completion of their doctoral projects. He also enjoys mentoring newly hired CRNAs at VUMC.

“My goal is to be a positive influence on the next generation of CRNAs,” he said. “This includes mentoring and encouraging RNs and SRNAs I come in contact with daily and continuing to promote the profession of nurse anesthesia.”

Students often say how much they enjoy Brett’s approach to teaching because he treats them as equals rather than students. One lesson Brett strives to impart on his students is to develop a “soothing nature,” something he feels is indicative of CRNAs. He said it is one of the major reasons why he entered the profession.

“I knew I wanted to become a CRNA when I had to have surgery in high school,” Brett recalled. “I was very nervous, and the individual who placed my IV made me feel at ease. He was confident, professional, and calm. I asked him, ‘What is your job title?’ He told me he was something called a ‘CRNA.’

“That was the day I decided to become a CRNA,” Brett said. “The way he placed me at ease was something I wanted to be able to do for other people. The most satisfying aspect of being a CRNA is placing patients at ease on one of the most stressful and significant days of their lives. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to serve others each day I go into work.”

Brett said he is “honored and humbled” to receive the Patty Cornwell award. “I had the privilege to work with Patty on the TANA-PAC for several years, so to receive an award named after her is a tremendous honor,” he said.

Brett gives credit for his success to the many amazing mentors he’s had “along life’s path, starting with my parents who instilled in me the core values of faith, hard work, honesty and love for others,” he said. “Today, I have so many colleagues at Vanderbilt and MTSA who continue to have a significant impact on my life and career.”

His advice to new CRNAs? Do some solid planning.

“The guidance I would give to a new CRNA would be to set long-term goals for yourself,” Brett said. “Nothing happens by chance. Setting goals and planning far in advance are foundational to a successful career.”

Brett and his family live in Hermitage, Tennessee.

Read more about Brett and TANA’s Patty Cornwell Practitioner of the Year Award.

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