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Every day College of Health Professions students, alumni, faculty and staff do extraordinary things. Read more about our latest achievements below.

A ‘living legend’ in nurse anesthesia education who gave all to family and nation

By Jeff Kelley

Like many in the greatest generation, 15-year-old Herb Watson claimed to be 18 in order to enlist in the U.S. Navy. From 1944 to 1946, he served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II from the relative safety of a naval warship.

Herb in Navy uniform April 1944 age 15That was not the case more than two decades later in Vietnam, where, then in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a flight medic on C-130s airlifting injured and dying soldiers to hospitals. Over 500 missions, he saw the worst of the conflict’s combat during his 1967-68 deployment.

“It was horrible, just horrible. Some things he couldn’t even talk about,” recalled Watson’s daughter, Val Caldwell. “But he had the disposition for it, a good disposition, to be able to walk the walk. He was an extraordinary human being.”

Over a highly decorated 21-year service in the Air Force, Watson traversed the globe with his wife of 66 years, Beverly, and two daughters. He retired from the military in 1977 with the rank of colonel and went on to lead a prestigious career that set the foundations for nurse anesthesia education in America, retiring as chair of the VCU Department of Nurse Anesthesia in 1994. Col. Watson died on March 7 at the age of 94.

“Herb was a living legend in the profession,” says Michael D. Fallacaro, Ph.D, CRNA, professor emeritus at VCU who became department chair in 1998.

A personal quest to improve nurse anesthesia education

The second of four boys, Herbert Thomas Watson was born May 17, 1928 in Ovid, N.Y. in the state’s Finger Lakes region. After WWII, he earned a nursing degree in 1950. Six years later, he was commissioned to the Air Force and began a military career that, among other honors, awarded him the Legion of Merit, given to members “who have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.”

If service to the nation was his calling, nurse anesthesia education was his passion. Watson graduated in 1958 from Texas’ Brooke Army Medical Center School of Nurse Anesthesia. Over the next 13 years, he’d earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Syracuse University and master’s in nursing education from Columbia University.

Herb in Air Force uniformWhile serving as a senior consultant to the U.S. Air Force surgeon general, Watson drafted a plan for preserving the role of the nurse anesthetist by linking it to a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia. Col. Watson took his quest to VCU, where his vitae earned him the chairmanship of the department.

There, he formed the specialty’s first postgraduate master’s degree in 1979. At that time, most nurse anesthetists were simply certified to administer such medications, or held bachelor’s degrees.

“But the master’s was something way out in the future,” Fallacaro says. The profession’s accrediting body didn’t require a master’s degree until 1998. “He was certainly a visionary in that regard,” Fallacaro says.

In 1979, Watson founded Nurse Anesthesiology Faculty Associates, a continuing education business that he ran as a family affair with Beverly and daughters, who would handle the registration table at conferences. In 1981, VCU graduated the first students in the nation to earn an M.S. in Nurse Anesthesia.

“His goal was to run a school of anesthesia, and he achieved it,” Val says. “The Air Force groomed him for the job at VCU,” she said, while noting the sacrifice of his Vietnam service: “He paid a price to get to Richmond.”

Under Watson’s leadership, the department gained national recognition as a leader among nurse anesthesia educational programs. Today, VCU is ranked no. 1 in the nation for nurse anesthesiology graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report.

“Over the years, as an educator of nurse anesthetists, I have used the word ‘Anesthesiology’ freely as it applies to the study of the science of anesthesia within the framework of graduate education. The rationale being that vocational training no longer applies to the educational preparation of the nurse anesthetist,” Watson said in 1975.

Gave family ‘a full life’

“As much as people liked him at work, he had a great home life,” Val says. She and her younger sister by 13 months, Karen Brown, moved around a lot as kids — from New York to Florida, Texas, California, France, back to New York, to Oregon, again to Florida, again to New York, Alabama, Texas — and finally, Virginia. “Our lives were so full,” Val says. “We loved moving. We weren’t the one new girl in town, we were two new girls in town. It was just a dream. We had the best experiences.”

On retirement from the Air Force, Watson was serving at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas before landing the job at VCU in what was then the School of Allied Health and Sciences at West Hospital. (Today, the school is known as the College of Health Professions).

Herb and Bev

In Richmond, Watson and his wife built a home in Henrico County’s West End. Val describes her mom as the one who “kept the family’s social life together,” as Watson was so focused on building the nurse anesthesia program, studying, teaching, and running NAFA. “They were a perfect combination,” Val says.

The later years

After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-2000s, Watson stepped in as a full-time caregiver. “He took care of her until the bitter end,” Fallacaro says. “It was a heroic thing.” Beverly died in 2011.

In that time, Watson also approached Fallacaro to take over NAFA. Fallacaro, who joined the department in 1998, wasn’t interested in becoming an entrepreneur, but pitched the idea of bringing NAFA under the VCU umbrella.

Fallacaro’s implication was to sell NAFA to VCU. But Watson instead gifted the enterprise to the university in 2007, a deal that Fallacaro believes would have been a seven-figure sale of the business. Watson then showed Fallacaro the ropes of running a company.

Herb and Mike Fallacaro“He really took me under his wing,” Fallacaro says. “We traveled to several different places together, and he treated me like his own son, he really did. He took me into his confidence, he showed me the books, he showed me how to run everything. He really mentored me well.” Fallacaro would hire a small staff, but most financial resources went toward travel and equipment to support nurse anesthesia graduate students and continuing education for certified registered nurse anesthetists.

In October 2012, Watson made a donation to the department that created the Herbert T. Watson Endowed Professorship; Fallacaro was its first recipient. He was succeeded by Suzanne Wright, Ph.D., CRNA and the title is currently held by VCU’s Nickie Damico, Ph.D., CRNA.

In 2005, Watson was honored with an appointment by the VCU Board of Visitors as emeritus professor. He continued to attend NAFA meetings into his later years, sitting quiet and attentive in the front row, despite no longer teaching or practicing. Fallacaro recalls once asking him why he still showed up to the meetings.

“He said, ‘As a retired Air Force colonel, I could be called back at any time. And if they call me back, I want to be ready,’” Fallacaro recalls. “And he was sincere about it. This man still wanted to serve even in his late years. You just don’t find that in a lot of people.”

“He laid such a good foundation for us to build upon,” he said. “I will miss him terribly.”

Adds Val: “I don’t know who groomed my dad along the way, but they did a good job. He was self-made. He just had the right personality and married the right person. He’ll be deeply missed.”

Watson is survived by his daughters and their spouses, three grandchildren, and a great grandson. Alongside Beverly, Col. Watson will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on July 5 at 11 a.m.

Read Col. Watson’s full obituary.

Jennifer Pryor Selected as one of the Top 50 Women Leaders of Virginia for 2023

Jennifer PryorJennifer Pryor was selected as one of the Top 50 Women Leaders of Virginia for 2023. She is the Graduate Program Director for the Department of Gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She also serves as the Co-Director for the NAB-accredited assisted living administration specialty area within the Master of Science in Gerontology program where she is an instructor, advisor, and supervisor to students who are in pursuit of their license as an assisted living administrator. At the undergraduate level, Jennifer serves as the Director of Service Learning for the Bachelor of Science in Health Services program in the College of Health Professions where she also teaches and works with students to develop their skills in healthcare management. Finally, at the national level, Jennifer serves as the Vice Chair of the Education Committee with the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB). To support her work in all of these roles, Jennifer maintains a valid Virginia License in Assisted Living Administration.

Jennifer’s personal and professional goal is to challenge the paradigm of the long-term care continuum and promote innovation and development in the long-term care sector to foster inclusiveness, community, and awareness of ageism. She speaks and trains at the national, state, and local levels on topics related to ageism in long-term care, assisted living administration, best practices in assisted living, and leadership. Jennifer's research and educational areas of interest include: long-term care organizations with a particular emphasis on the assisted living sector; administration, management, and leadership in long-term care; education and training for the long-term care workforce; ageism and ableism in long-term care practice; and best practices in long-term care administration related to higher quality of life and higher quality of care for individuals living in these communities, especially as they relate to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Hollins University, a master’s degree in psychology from the College of William and Mary, and a master’s degree in gerontology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently working on her PhD in health services organizations and research from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Visit The Women We Admire's website to see the Top 50 Women Leaders of Virginia for 2023.

Paula Song named interim dean of the VCU College of Health Professions

Song’s appointment will be effective July 1. She will succeed Susan Parish, who recently was named president of Mercy College.

Paula Song is the Richard M. Bracken Chair and professor of health administration in VCU’s College of Health Professions. She joined VCU in 2020, after serving as program director for the residential master’s program in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a research associate at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

Song will succeed Susan Parish, Ph.D., who has served as dean since 2019. Parrish was recently named president of Mercy College in New York.

Read more about Paula Song's appointment on VCU News.

Network to develop long-term care COVID-19 treatment, infection prevention best practices

A network of long-term care medical directors and clinicians will develop best practices around COVID-19 treatments and infection prevention guidelines for senior living communities, nursing homes and other congregate care settings in Virginia.

The Virginia Long Term Care Clinician Network is the result of a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Department of Health to bring together medical directors and clinicians practicing in long-term care settings. The network is a two-year project being developed and managed by the VCU Division of Geriatric Medicine, VCU’s Virginia Center on Aging and the VCU Department of Gerontology.

Read more about the partnership on McKnight's Senior Living.

Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D. in health related sciences alum, selected for National Cancer Institute Early Investigator Advancement Program

Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences, has been named to the second cohort of the National Cancer Institute’s Early Investigator Advancement Program. Sutton earned her Ph.D. in health related sciences from VCU in 2017, and most recently completed a T32 postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU.

Read more about Arnethea Sutton on VCU News.

Study: Eliminating GRE in Admissions Drives Diversity

By Kyra Newman

Eliminating the requirement of the standardized GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test and shifting to more holistic admissions review process is helping to diversify the pool of students entering the VCU Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) program.

But could it benefit all graduate programs – not merely nurse anesthesia?

That shift is supported by a review of the literature that analyzed the impact of the GRE, typically required for entry into graduate school, on nurse anesthesia admissions. The study team, which included VCU Nurse Anesthesia faculty, resulted in recommendations for all programs to remove the GRE and expand practices that better gauge a student’s potential for success.

As implemented at VCU, holistic review processes include consideration of academic accomplishments, diverse experiences and individual attributes.

“Our publication argued that the GRE doesn’t test for the skills and knowledge required to be a successful nurse anesthetist. Marginalized nurses are directly and adversely impacted by mandated GRE exams, and many are not invited for an interview based on this one criterion,” said Jiale “Gary” Hu, PhD, RN, FAAN, assistant professor and director of research and global outreach at VCU Nurse Anesthesia. “GRE minimum scores as a criterion for admission denial or acceptance may powerfully contribute to cohorts lacking diversity.”

Jiale Gary Hu (left) and Nicole Damico (right)
Jiale Gary Hu (left) and Nicole Damico (right)

Hu and Nicole Damico, PhD, CRNA, CHSE, FAANA, chair of the VCU Department of Nurse Anesthesia, are among the co-authors of “Addressing Structural and Systemic Barriers in Nurse Anesthesia Programs: Recommendations to eliminate the GRE and adopt holistic admissions,” recently published in Nursing Outlook. Colleagues from Duke University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program joined them in researching and writing the journal article.

Ranked as the No. 1 graduate program in nurse anesthesia by U.S. News & World Report, VCU Nurse Anesthesia strongly promotes holistic admission review and is conducting multiple research projects on the GRE-removal initiative. The Department removed the GRE from admissions requirements in 2021, with first-time Nursing Certification Examination (NCE) pass rates registering at 91%. In the first admission application cycle following this change, there was a 40% increase in the overall number of applications to the DNAP program at VCU, and the program enrolled its largest cohort to date.

The researchers pinpointed three barriers created by the GRE requirement:

  • GRE scores have stronger correlations with race, gender, and socioeconomic status than academic performance and prediction of future career success.
  • Many students from marginalized populations lack access to the test for reasons including high costs associated with the GRE preparation, study, and testing, inconvenient testing locations and time, as they often are balancing multiple jobs or lack reliable transportation.
  • The GRE guideline also strongly suggests using multiple sources of information from students rather than GRE minimum scores during the admission decision-making

Currently, among the nation’s 59,000 CRNAs, less than 12% identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islanders or Native Americans. “The lack of diverse anesthesia professionals may contribute towards health disparities, racial biases in pain management, and inadequate pain management services in communities of color,” the paper states.

“The GRE is a barrier for applicants who don’t even consider any program that requires that test. But removing that test is only part of an effective strategy to broaden diversity in our profession,” said Damico, also the Herbert T. Watson Endowed Professor. “At VCU, we’re augmenting this recent shift in our admissions practices with greater outreach to meet these prospective students where they are.”

Damico and Wallena Gould, first author of the journal article and founder of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program, as well as co-author Edwin Aroke will present the research and findings at the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology Assembly of Didactic and Clinical Educators on Feb. 25.

VCU faculty leader begins term on national diversity and inclusivity committee

Stephan Davis joins the American Academy of Nursing Diversity & Inclusivity Committee for two-year term.

Picture of Stephan DavisStephan Davis, DNP, interim associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing and the College of Health Professions, recently began a two-year term on the American Academy of Nursing Diversity & Inclusivity Committee. The committee comprises AAN fellows appointed by the board to recommend strategies and goals for increasing diversity and inclusivity within the academy and its leadership bodies.

“I am so honored to represent VCU School of Nursing and the College of Health Professions on this important national committee,” Davis said. “As a Black member of the LGBTQ+ community, as a millennial, and as a cisgender man within nursing, I believe the intersection of my lived experiences combined with my professional expertise related to diversity, equity and inclusion will offer a unique perspective to advance the work and impact of the academy.”

Davis, who is executive director of inclusive leadership education for the Department of Health Administration, is a board-certified nurse executive and certified academic nurse educator, a fellow and national faculty member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, a distinguished scholar and fellow of the National Academies of Practice, a fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association and a newly inducted fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Stephan Davis, DNP, (left), pictured with American Academy of Nursing president, Ken White, Ph.D., (right), professor emeritus in the VCU Department of Health Administration and School of Nursing alum. Stephan Davis, DNP, (left), pictured with American Academy of Nursing president, Ken White, Ph.D., (right), professor emeritus in the VCU Department of Health Administration and School of Nursing alum.

As the interim associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the School of Nursing, Davis leads the work of the school’s diversity and inclusion council; guides the evaluation of school policies, standards and practices to reflect a commitment to diversity and inclusion values; supports initiatives that ensure inclusive andragogy and teaching strategies; and promotes understanding of health disparities, social determinants of health and health equity.

“As a community of scholars and educators, the VCU School of Nursing is committed to inclusive excellence in education, research, scholarship, practice and service,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., dean and professor, Doris B. Yingling Endowed Chair, VCU School of Nursing. “We are excited by the perspective Dr. Davis will gain from his service on the national level and we look forward to his leadership of our DEI efforts.”

“As members of the most trusted profession in America, nursing faculty have a tremendous responsibility to educate the next generation of nurse leaders, practitioners and scholars,” Davis said. “We must ensure that trust in the nursing profession is earned in all communities, including those that have historically faced stigma, mistreatment and discrimination in health care settings. This will require us to restore trust with members of our profession who are from historically underrepresented and excluded backgrounds, who have much to contribute as we strive to eradicate health disparities and achieve health equity. This work is part of our enduring pursuit of inclusive excellence at the VCU School of Nursing.”

Two VCU health science schools celebrate Black History Month with series of programs

The School of Nursing and College of Health Professions will offer several lectures and events in recognition of Black contributions to health and healthcare

The Virginia Commonwealth University College of Health Professions and School of Nursing are pleased to announce and support events in honor of Black History Month, joining the university community in celebrating the achievements of African Americans and recognizing their central role in American history. 

Black History Month“I am thrilled that we are able to offer several events during Black History Month to foster education, dialogue, and to celebrate the contributions of Black members of the VCU CHP and nursing communities,” said Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, FAAN, the inaugural executive director of inclusive leadership education for the department of health administration and interim associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for both the College of Health Professions and the School of Nursing. 

This year’s program of events was curated by Davis who is a Black nursing and healthcare leader and educator. “Through these educational sessions, we will explore the challenges Black people have faced and overcome in the past and present, and discuss the promise of Black leadership as we seek to reimagine the future of health and healthcare—eradicating disparities and achieving equity,” he said. 

"I encourage the entire university community, especially those in the health science disciplines, to participate in this wonderful program of events during February in honor of Black History Month. Through this engaging series of events, I hope we can do our part to illuminate meaningful contributions of generations who have previously been overlooked and make connections with the past to understand how to address persistent challenges borne of that history,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, professor and dean of the VCU School of Nursing and Doris B. Yingling Endowed Chair.

Over the course of the past two years, the School of Nursing and College of Health Professions have collaborated on several shared educational offerings to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes two sessions during Black History Month in 2022, a Voices for Change series lecture focused on inclusive andragogy, and a panel discussion, “Our St. Philip Experience,” which highlighted the perspectives of Rev. Dr. Harold Pinkston (Cert. ‘60/CHP), former chaplain of St. Philip Hospital, and Virginia Roane (’61/N; B.S.’82/N) and Burlette Trent (‘54/N), graduates of the all-Black St. Philip School of Nursing (1920-1962). 

“The University has created a culture which values and respects every individual and his or her or their unique heritage and culture,” said Susan L. Parish, Ph.D., M.S.W., dean of the VCU College of Health Professions and Sentara professor of health administration. “I hope members of the VCU community are able to observe Black History Month in a significant way. By participating in opportunities for dialogue and learning, we honor the contributions of African Americans throughout history, and challenge ourselves to build stronger communities.” 


The Black Angels A Nurse's Story February 6, 5-6:30pm | Virginia Museum of History and Culture

The Black Angels: A Nurse's Story

Join producer Denetra Hampton, founder of For Nurses By Nurses Productions, for a conversation about her documentary, The Black Angels: A Nurse's Story, the incredible story of 300 African American nurses who risked their lives to care for patients with tuberculosis at Seaview Hospital in Staten Island, New York at a time when there was no cure and white nurses refused.

Register to attend The Black Angels: A Nurse's Story

Adrienne LawrenceFebruary 8, 12pm | VCU College of Health Professions, Room 1050

Voices for Change - Best Practices & Innovations in Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

As an impactful workplace equity educator and devoted inclusion advocate, Adrienne Lawrence does more than just talk. The former big law litigator-turned-VP and Senior Consultant for Jennifer Brown Consulting is passionate about reaching professionals through informative, thought-provoking conversation. Adrienne wrote a first-of-its-kind business book titled “Staying in the Game: The Playbook for Beating Workplace Sexual Harassment,” which won several awards and was heralded as a must-read for every woman in the workplace (Penguin Random House, 2020).

Memories of a Tuskagee Aiemn Nurse and her Military Sisters by Pia Marie Winters JordanFebruary 22, 6pm | hosted virtually by VCU Alumni

Memories of a Tuskegee Airmen Nurse and Her Military Sisters

Join VCU Alumni to hear from author Pia Marie Winters Jordan as she previews her forthcoming publication, Memories of a Tuskegee Airmen Nurse and Her Military Sisters (publication date June 2023). The book tells the story of alumna, Louise Lomax Winters ('42/St. Philips), and her experiences in a segregated U.S. Army as a nurse and First Lieutenant at Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1942-1946.

Register to attend Memories of a Tuskagee Airmen Nurse and Her Military Sisters

Michael Elliott and Chelsea PerryFebruary 24, 12-1pm | hosted virtually by the VCU College of Health Professions

Black Excellence in Healthcare Leadership

The National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) and the VCU Department of Health Administration have partnered to offer a three-part webinar series to advance inclusive leadership education. The Black History Month webinar, entitled “Black Excellence in Healthcare Leadership” will feature accomplished Black healthcare leaders and incorporate diverse generational perspectives. Two of the panelists who will be featured in the webinar are alums  of the VCU Department of Health Administration, Michael Elliott, PharmD, MSHA, FACHE, the inaugural system Chief Operating Officer for VCU Health, and Chelsea Perry, MHA’17, Co-Founder of Appcelerator and MBA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business.

Register to attend Black Excellence in Healthcare Leadership.

Katie Boston-Leary, PhD, RN, NEA-BCFebruary 27, 12-1pm | VCU School of Nursing, Room 1013

Truth, Reckoning, and Reconciliation: Nursing's Past, Present, and Future

Katie Boston-Leary, Ph.D., RN, NEA-BC,  the Director of Nursing Programs at the American Nurses Association overseeing the Nursing Practice and Work Environment Division and Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation and Co-Lead for Project Firstline, a multi-million-dollar grant collaborative with the CDC for training on Infection Prevention and Control, will deliver a lecture on understanding "nursism," racism, and its role in the history of nursing, the potential for an antiracist practice climate to foster inclusive excellence and strengthen strategies to address social determinants of health.

Register to virtually attend Truth, Reckoning, and Reconciliation: Nursing's Past, Present and Future

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