Nurse anesthesia community questions Quinnipiac’s motive behind program’s closure

Chatwan Mongkol, News Editor

Before Quinnipiac University’s School of Nursing announced the closure of its nurse anesthesia curriculum in June, alumni expressed support for the success and potential growth of the program. That’s why they said they were shocked to learn that the school would discontinue the program.

Nurse anesthesia alumni and the program’s Founding Director Judy Thompson disapproved of the shutdown and questioned the university’s motive behind the closure. They also called for transparency from the administration.

Quinnipiac University submitted a teach-out plan that will graduate 43 current students, the plan is expected to be finalized in November. (Daniel Passapera/Chronicle)

Sebastian Fernandez De Soto, class of 2020 nurse anesthesia graduate, heard about the program’s closure through an email and said it was a “shortsighted move,” because the program was doing well.

Graduating classes had a 100% passing rate for the national nurse anesthesia certification exam in 2019 and 2020, and 77% in 2021. However, the second-time passing rate this year was at 100%.

“It made no sense in my mind,” Fernandez De Soto said.

Class of 2020 nurse anesthesia graduate Josh Neagle said he had a positive experience during his three years at Quinnipiac, especially with the program’s leadership. 

“Within the School of Nursing, however, it always (seemed) like there was a bit of a disconnect between our program’s leadership and the School of Nursing’s leadership,” Neagle said. “There was some sort of friction, or I guess, tension is a good way to put it, that existed.”

Both Fernandez De Soto and Neagle emailed President Judy Olian, Provost Debra Liebowitz and School of Nursing Dean Lisa O’Connor to oppose the decision, but what they received back was not what they hoped for.

“I did hear back but it was a very, it was essentially, ‘thank you for your time, but we’ve already made the decision,’” Fernandez De Soto said.

For Neagle, he said he received an email from O’Connor, which he said looked like a template and felt “very impersonal.”

“It seemed as though she just kind of took a template, added a couple of lines that may have (been) tailored to me, and then sent it my way,” Neagle said. “It was to kind of echo what I was saying before, a bit dismissive of me, as a former student and of the current students and student body.”

The provost confirmed the university heard from alumni expressing their disappointments. Liebowitz said the closure was a “difficult decision.”

“While the program may be a good program, that doesn’t mean you do everything,” Liebowitz said. “Difficult decisions, some that are strategic, have to be made.” 

Liebowitz told The Chronicle in September that the university decided to close the program after it evaluated how to best allocate its resources. The nurse anesthesia unit is one of the university’s smallest programs because its accrediting body limits it to 15 students per year.

Infographic by Connor Lawless

Thompson said there were many options that the university should have considered rather than just shutting down. She said several interested parties approached Quinnipiac to offer help financially.

“If QU did not want to bear the total expense of the program, it could have considered shared authority with a hospital or healthcare system,” Thompson said.

Liebowitz said no one else approached the university but rather it was the other way around. Quinnipiac reached out to hospital-based systems and nurse anesthesia groups for help, however, no deal was made.

“While one was willing to make some commitment, it was limited,” Liebowitz said. “It did not make continuing the program a strategic investment.”

The provost did not comment on how much Quinnipiac loses per year from running the nurse anesthesia program, but said the loss has been “significant.”

In terms of the limited class size, Thompson said she was told that the small number of students per class made expansion impossible. She said that was only partially true because the programs are capped by clinical experiences available. Nurse anesthesia students are required to have a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical experience, which is doubled from what’s mandated for other nursing programs.

“Saving a high (quality) program with over 100 strong applicants each year for 15 spots, with a stellar rate of board certification success is worth it, and, in most universities, the support is loud and clear,” Thompson said. “There has to be a hidden agenda for this decision and lack of effort to try to make it work.”

Liebowitz denied any hidden agenda and the lack of effort to save the program.

“There were efforts over a period of about a year, maybe even a little bit more than that to try to broker a partnership that would make it work,” Liebowitz said.

The two alumni told The Chronicle they would react the same way if they had to deal with what the current students are facing because of sacrifices they had to make prior to enrolling in the program.

Neagle explained that he had to undergo four and a half years of intensive care unit experience, quit his job, give up his income stream and take out a student loan. During the three-year education, Neagle had to complete over 40 hours of clinical practice per week on top of studying for exams and keeping up with readings and lectures.

“To have something like this (the closure) added to that level of stress is just, it’s unimaginable, really, the lack of communication from the School of Nursing leadership has been disappointing,” Neagle said. “Up until your involvement, The QU Chronicle, up until it has become public, (the school) seemed to be rather dismissive.”

Fernandez De Soto, who moved from California to Connecticut for Quinnipiac, said being in the nurse anesthesia program is challenging because it’s a change from being at the top of the field with years of ICU experience to quitting and starting from scratch again. He said he would probably be “enraged” if the closure happened during his time at Quinnipiac. 

“If we’re looking at it from any standpoint, as a business, as a teaching institution, it’s completely unacceptable that they would treat the students the way that they have been treating them,” Fernandez De Soto said. “I think what makes it worse is that now that it’s out in the open.”

If we’re looking at it from any standpoint, as a business, as a teaching institution, it’s completely unacceptable that they would treat the students the way that they have been treating them.

— Sebastian Fernandez De Soto, nurse anesthesia class of 2020 graduate

What these two alumni said they want to see from the university’s administration is transparency. Fernandez De Soto said he wished the best outcome for the current students because they are the ones directly affected by this decision.

“I hope that the leadership at Quinnipiac can come up with something that they can show and make it public to all of them (current students) and that they stick to it more than anything else,” Fernandez De Soto said.

For Neagle, he wanted the program to endure because he said it is “exceptional” and “well-worth” the investment, given the facilities and physical environments Quinnipiac provided.

Neagle recommended partnering with different community outlets such as larger teaching hospitals so the university can reduce costs and keep the program running.

However, if Quinnipiac continues with the closure, he also called for transparency with the students at a base level.

“Sit students down, let them know why they want to close the program,” Neagle said. “If it’s a financial thing, go over the line items. I mean, we are adult students.”

The university already submitted a teach-out plan to the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) for a review earlier this month. Current students in the program will be able to graduate from Quinnipiac under this plan.

In terms of finances, the university’s Board of Trustees decided to freeze the tuition and fees for the remaining duration of the nurse anesthesia program. Liebowitz said it was one of the requests from the current students.

While Liebowitz already emailed students an update about the submission, she said she will meet with students again after the COA approves the plan. That would happen by the third week of November.