Being the “first” is always an honor, but there are times when being the first is simply more important than at other times.
This October, Lieutenant Commander Hope Ferguson, DNP, MBA, CRNA, president-elect of TANA, will become TANA’s first African American president. It is a significant moment in TANA history and a reason to celebrate!
“It’s like a dream,” Hope said about her upcoming role in the state association she loves. “To me it’s basically like ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ That’s a quote by Marian Wright Edleman* that is often repeated by my friend and mentor Dr. Lena Gould, CRNA, who is the founder of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program. I definitely saw becoming president one day as something I wanted to strive for. Now here I am.”
As is often the case with CRNAs, a career in nurse anesthesia wasn’t Hope’s first choice, simply because she wasn’t familiar with the profession. “Initially I wanted to be a pediatrician, and in high school I changed my mind and thought maybe a pediatric nurse or nurse practitioner,” Hope said. “Then while I was working on my BSN (2009) I shadowed the daughter-in-law of one of my mom’s high school friends, a CRNA named Mary Johnson. Mary is also African American, and my experience watching her work really changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do.”
Hope became an ICU nurse and earned her BSN in 2010, and in 2011 she direct commissioned as a Nurse Corps Officer in the US Navy, earning her MSN later that year. Both her BSN and MSN were from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She became a CRNA in 2015 after graduating with her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis. “I remain grateful to Mary to this day and view her as one of my most influential mentors,” she said.
Another influential person in Hope’s universe was Dr. Jill S. Detty Oswaks, CRNA, Director of the Nurse Anesthesia Option at UTHSC during the time that Hope was a graduate student there. “I will forever appreciate her encouraging me to join the AANA and to get involved with TANA. She opened those doors for me.”
The road to becoming a CRNA wasn’t always easy to traverse as an African American woman, Hope recalls. “I didn’t find the didactic part of my education to be difficult, but the clinicals definitely were at times,” she said. “Mostly it was the mental side of it—feeling like you weren’t welcome. I remember one time a preceptor physically hit me in the back to get a point across, which was highly inappropriate. But my overall experience was a good one.”
Another challenge was balancing the exhausting time demands of being educated and trained in nursing and nurse anesthesia while also serving as a U.S. Navy reservist. “Military service runs in my blood. My dad, who is Jamaican, is a 20-plus year retired U.S. Navy veteran. He’s who told me going into the reserves would be good for my career,” Hope said. “I wanted to make my dad proud by following in his footsteps into the military as his daughter.” Hope, who is still a full-time reservist today, said she, too, plans to make it to 20 years before retiring from the Navy.
“My favorite part about being in the military is mentoring the junior Officers and Enlisted personnel through teaching and setting a good example,” Hope said. It’s her way of paying forward the mentorship that has been so instrumental to her career pursuits. “If someone asked me, ‘Should I go into the military?’ I would say it’s a great decision to make! It teaches you discipline and takes you far. In the Navy, we say it’s all about ‘Honor, Courage, and Commitment.’ What’s not to like?”
Currently, Hope specializes in anesthesia for major vascular, cardiovascular, and open heart procedures at the Memphis VA Medical Center. In 2022, she obtained her MBA in Healthcare Management from the University of North Alabama in Florence.
Her favorite part about being a CRNA? “That’s easy,” she said. “It’s caring for patients.”
As the current chair of TANA’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, one of Hope’s passions is finding ways to encourage more Black nurses to go into the nurse anesthesia profession. To her, the most logical starting point is to educate and inform Black nurses and other nurses of color about nurse anesthesia and what an amazing career it is. “It’s like my own story,” she said. “I’d never even heard of nurse anesthesia until my mom read a magazine article focused on diversity in nurse anesthesia written by Dr. Gould. After that the dominoes fell one by one, including my experience shadowing Mary. All I’d ever heard about in advanced practice nursing was becoming a nurse practitioner. We have to get into the high schools and nursing schools and spread the word about nurse anesthesia, generate some interest!”
Hope’s message to young people of color who are thinking about becoming a CRNA is short and sweet: “Just look at the road I traveled and say to yourself, ‘If she overcame it all and made it through, I know I can, too.’ Nurse anesthesia is a great career and profession, and just know that when you step through those doors, you will be welcomed.”
Hope’s final thoughts about becoming the TANA president? “I want to say thank you to the membership for trusting me to guide them this coming year, and for making me the first African American president of TANA,” she said. “It is incredibly meaningful to me and important to the growth of our profession.”
*Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.