TANA congratulates Anna McCleskey, DNP, CRNA, for being chosen as the 2023 recipient of the Patty Cornwell Stewardship and Advocacy Scholarship! A May 2023 graduate from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Nursing Nurse Anesthesia Option, Anna is the third recipient of the scholarship. She will be honored on August 21 during the 2023 AANA Annual Congress in Seattle.

The $3,000 scholarship was established jointly by TANA and the AANA Foundation in recognition of legendary TANA member Patty Cornwell, CRNA, who devoted a lifetime of service to her profession, TANA, and the AANA. Patty passed away in 2021.

“I definitely fell into nursing,” Anna said, relating how at 14 she got started down her career path by becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) after taking a class in high school. “For a 14-year-old, CNA money was big money, so I signed up and worked in a nursing home through high school.  I just fell in love with my residents and having the ability to care for them in such a unique manner.”

Anna’s next stop was the University of Iowa, which she entered as a pre-nursing major. “It was a very competitive program, and I was not a top-tier candidate,” she recalled. “So, I switched my major a couple times to chemistry and even pre-med at one point, but ultimately decided nursing was where I wanted to be.” Her desire to become a nurse motivated her to start working night shifts at the local hospital as a CNA while diving headlong into researching “what I could do” with a nursing degree.

“When I came across CRNAs and found out I could give anesthesia as a nurse, I became infatuated with the idea,” Anna said. “However, the more I read the more I realized just how competitive the profession is and how CRNAs appeared to be the cream of the crop, so I shrugged off that pipe dream, transferred out of UI, and completed an accelerated RN program.”

After completing her BSN, Anna began working in an ICU and discovered that she loved every second of it. “The more comfortable I got in the ICU the more I realized how incredibly pivotal I could be in people’s lives serving in such an honorable role. That was when graduate school began to cross my mind, and I realized that I was finally in the perfect position to apply for CRNA school, an absolute dream I once thought was unattainable. I received my acceptance letter during my honeymoon!”

For every SRNA, there is always at least one person who mentors them along the way to becoming a CRNA. Anna was no exception, although how she met her mentor is undeniably unique. On a trip home from a wedding in Atlanta, Anna and her husband, Mark, were having dinner in the bar of a restaurant when another couple noticed Mark’s Memphis Grizzlies cap and struck up a conversation with them.  “Much to our surprise,” Anna said, “they were neighbors of my in-laws, and one was, get this, a CRNA! She gave me her phone number on an old napkin and told me to call her if/when I decided I wanted to pursue that career path!” Which is exactly what Anna did a couple of years later.

“Cheryl Taylor has been such a presence of grace for me during this journey, from coaching me through nervous, sweaty interviews, to motivational texts at times when I couldn’t have needed them more, to being there to cheer me on as I walked across the stage at graduation,” Anna happily recalled. “I owe so much gratitude to her!”

As an SRNA, Anna began building an impressive resume of experiences that demonstrate her interest in healthcare/nurse anesthesia advocacy, political involvement, leadership, and service to her professional organizations. She has been a member of TANA and the AANA since 2020, served as the Tennessee Association of Student Nurse Anesthetists president, and spent a year as the class liaison for the Memphis Student Nurse Anesthetist Foundation (now Midsouth Student Nurse Anesthetist Association). She relishes attending events such as the AANA Annual Congress, TANA Day on the Hill in Nashville, and TANA board meetings and leadership retreats around Tennessee.

For the time being, Anna plans to serve on TANA committees, adding that “once I find my balance as a practicing CRNA I will seek out other opportunities and hope one presents itself!”

Anna called it an “unmatched honor” to receive such a prestigious scholarship. “Since being a part of TANA,” she said, “I have heard so many wonderful stories about how Patty Cornwell was not only an excellent advocate, but an absolutely outstanding human being. I can only hope to do this honor justice throughout my career.”

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