MUSC alumna establishes scholarship to empower the next generation of nurse anesthetists

Samantha Paternoster
June 23, 2021
Deborah Geisler 
Deborah A. Geisler is a 1980 graduate of the Anesthesia for Nurses and a 1987 graduate of the Health Services Administration programs in the College of Health Professions.

Deborah Geisler, retired CRNA and MUSC program alumni, has funded The Deborah A. Geisler Leadership Scholarship for first and second-year Anesthesia for Nurses (AFN) students to nurture leadership and encourage students to give back to their profession.

“If it were not for MUSC and the AFN program, I would not be where I am today in my life,” says Geisler. “I wanted to give back to MUSC to recognize that they were instrumental in helping me achieve my accomplishments and form the path I’ve taken.”

Geisler’s endowed scholarship fund will award $2,000 to one first-year and one second-year AFN student each year in perpetuity. Recipients can only be awarded once. Geisler hopes that through her scholarship, she can empower students to understand that they have the ability to lead and make a difference.

“I am thrilled that we are able to offer much-needed financial support for the next generation of certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) leaders through Deborah Geisler’s generosity,” says Angie Mund, DNP, CRNA, director of the Anesthesia for Nurses division.

Leading by example

After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 1975 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Geisler moved to Charleston, SC to work as an RN in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at MUSC. It was there she became aware of the role of a CRNA. She was inspired by the CRNAs she met and decided to apply to the AFN program at MUSC to advance her career.

“The day the committee was to meet to decide on the members of the incoming AFN class, I had been working in the Burn Unit instead of the ICU. Everard Hicks, founding director of the AFN program at MUSC, showed up at the door to the burn unit and said, ‘I do not have your exam scores from the North Carolina Board of Nursing. Without them, your application will be incomplete and passed over.’” Hicks immediately initiated a conference call with the North Carolina Board of Nursing and retrieved her scores.

“If it had not been for Mr. Hicks believing I could make a difference, I would have been passed over,” says Geisler. “He was a strong mentor for all of his students as was Mary Anne Cone, the assistant director.”

After earning her AFN degree in 1980, Geisler accepted a position at the Greenville Hospital; System (GHS), now Prisma Health, a level 1 trauma center. A few years later, Geisler received a call from Cone, who became the MUSC AFN program director when Hicks retired, asking if she would help set up a clinical rotation for AFN students. Geisler took the opportunity to teach others as a great honor. A number of years later, students from the University of South Carolina Nurse Anesthesia program also started clinical rotations at GHS. Geisler served as the clinical coordinator for both programs until her departure from the hospital system in early 2000.

“Teaching students the importance of leadership helps to further the profession of nurse anesthesia. It shows them that their role as a CRNA is two-sided; a safe and effective practitioner as well as an advocate for their profession,” says Geisler. “CRNAs have a long-standing and rich history spanning more than 100 years. We have a responsibility to work to sustain our profession which has enriched our lives.

While working as a nurse anesthetist and a clinical coordinator, she recognized the need for an interdisciplinary understanding of how a hospital administrator thinks. Geisler earned her Master of Health Services Administration degree in 1987. “MUSC offered the program remotely. Earning my masters allowed me to have more empathy towards how a hospital administrator approaches a clinician,” says Geisler.

To date, Geisler remains the only CRNA in South Carolina to have served in all offices of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) Board of Directors, culminating in the role of President from 2001 to 2002.

“I have been impressed with Deb’s leadership abilities since meeting her when she was the president of the AANA. She truly is a leader who walks the walk,” says Mund.

Passing the baton to future nurse anesthetists

Geisler knows that the AFN’s program is very strenuous. In 2014, MUSC was the first nurse anesthesia program in the state to offer a post-master’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) and the program remains at the forefront of education for future CRNAs.

“If this scholarship can ease the stress of paying tuition and transform that into energy for reading and learning and doing, then it has achieved what it was meant to do,” says Geisler.

“There’s another side of giving back to the profession outside of working, and that’s giving back to the profession through leadership,” says Geisler. “I hope recipients of the scholarship will understand the importance of becoming a leader and encourage others to walk that path.”

The Deborah A. Geisler Leadership Scholarship Fund is currently accepting applications and will award its first recipients in the fall of 2021. Learn more about the scholarship and its application requirements.