Stephanie A. Lankford, MSN, CRNA, CPT, works in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine. She served in Afghanistan from 2015 to 2016. She won many awards, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Medal.

In this Q&A, she discusses why she chose to enter the field of health care.

How long have you worked at Mass General?

As of March 4, 2018, I will have been a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) at Mass General for 5 years.

What do you like most about your job?

I find true purpose in optimizing a patient's experience throughout the perioperative (before, during and after surgery) process. The dedication to one patient at a time during vulnerable moments is most rewarding as a CRNA. Many patients come to the operating room with numerous questions and emotions about surgery, anesthesia and the recovery process. The CRNA profession has a pivotal role in being that individual's advocate and easing their mind by providing the safest anesthetic possible. I am fortunate to be able to provide anesthesia as a civilian as well as a U.S. Army CRNA. It has fulfilled my most heartfelt life goal: to help as many people as I possibly can during my lifetime.

Describe your journey into health care.

In middle school and high school, my brother and I volunteered at a local community hospital. We would help our aunt in the food and nutrition department. The hospital environment was always exciting to me. I attended the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) Medicine during my sophomore year in high school. This was an opportunity to guide my passions through interactive sessions with doctors and other healthcare providers. Other high school students throughout the country and I underwent clinical skills rotations and visited Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH). It was at BWH, where a critical care nurse practitioner expanded my knowledge of what a career in nursing meant. Her passion and love of her patients was captivating.

Nursing school was definitely in my future! I landed at Boston College Connell School of Nursing, where I received a lot more than a bachelor's degree of science in nursing. I was enriched as a person as well as a future provider, doing clinical rotations in large academic ICUs and Framingham State Prison. Each one of my preceptors (instructors) found their nursing niche and were more than willing to teach. The potential career opportunities in nursing were abundant.

After working three years in a Cardiothoracic ICU, I enrolled in the Nurse Anesthesia graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh. One month before I started the program, I commissioned into the US Army Reserve. Providing anesthesia in Africa and Afghanistan for our US soldiers has been one of the most honorable contributions in my career. Working for Mass General and the US Army brings me joy and pride to be a CRNA.

Has there been an influential woman in your life who supported or inspired you on your journey into health care?

There is not one woman that supported and inspired me on my life journey. There are many. From my undergraduate clinical instructors at Boston College, where I learned how to take a blood pressure, to my first nursing job in the Cardiothoracic ICU, strong female leaders have molded my career.

What is one piece of advice you would give a woman entering the field of health care?

Stay passionate. Never lose the spark that drove your love for health care. If you feel the fire diminishing, make a change and be the change to continue to care.