Pioneering Her Craft and Establishing a Legacy

Clarkson College and its graduates have been pioneers in contributing developments and discoveries to health care since 1888 when it became the first training school for nurses in Nebraska. One innovative alumna, Franc Florence Henderson, graduated from the Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1900 and served as a leader in the ether anesthesia field. Henderson was driven to advance the field through careful research, treatment and administration. Her efforts demonstrate the significance history plays in our modern world and how a commitment to learning, caring and excellence can influence an individual’s practice.

Early Innovation 

Florence was born in Illinois on Feb. 14, 1874 and was the middle daughter of John and Josephine Henderson. The family moved to Seward, Neb., in 1876, and Florence graduated from Seward High School in 1892. She attended Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., for less than a year after high school and worked as a teacher until 1898. That year, Florence entered Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing in Omaha, Neb. She was 23 years old.

She completed her training in 1900 and was one of five classmates to graduate from Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing that year. She began her first professional role as the superintendent at Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital where she taught nursing students and supervised patient care. Henderson also assumed responsibilities that would lead to her anesthesia career, including the administration of chloroform and ether anesthetics during surgical operations. She learned these skills during her nurses training, despite the fact that the techniques were unusual for many nurses to study at the time.

She resigned from her superintendent position in 1903 and traveled to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., to learn about anesthesia provision under the direction of the Mother of Anesthesia, Alice Magaw, RN. Henderson also worked closely with Drs. Charles H. and William J. Mayo, both of whom would found the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

During her time at St. Mary’s Hospital, Henderson quickly learned that a calm, quiet operating room atmosphere coupled with gentle words from the anesthetist during induction were crucial to successful patient sedation. When practitioners followed this technique, it greatly reduced the need for larger amounts of ether, reduced surgical complications and minimized patients’ nausea. These practices coupled with the drop method of ether dosing allowed Henderson to safely administer anesthetics to an estimated 22,000 patients.

Henderson moved to Los Angeles in 1917 where she provided anesthesia to hospital patients throughout the city. Wherever she practiced, she demonstrated extreme dedication to her profession, stressed the importance of building relationships with patients and utilized a gentle approach in anesthesia administration. An active member of the American Red Cross and the California State Nurses’ Association, Henderson spent her spare time running a boarding house for single, professional working women until her death in December 1956.

Henderson left a significant historical mark in the nursing profession, and her dedication to treating patients with respect, dignity and compassion reflect the Clarkson College Values. Her drive to master safe, careful delivery of ether anesthesia inspire today’s health care providers, including recent graduate Steven Wood (’18).

Modern Advancement

Wood earned his Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Nurse Anesthesia in December 2018. As a teen, he witnessed a terrible car accident and did not know how to help at the time. The experience made a lasting impact on his life and influenced his decision to enter the health care field. “I knew at that time that I wanted to help those who were sick or hurt,” he said.

He met his goal after graduating from Dixie State University in Saint George, Utah, and beginning his nursing career in 2011. He worked as a corrections nurse for nearly five years before transferring into a cardiac intensive care unit for three years. As his experience and expertise grew, Wood desired to further his education and applied to the Clarkson College Nurse Anesthesia program option. The College was at the top of his list thanks to many recommendations from nursing students who were enrolled in similar programs.

“I was looking for a well-ranked program that was also front-loaded,” he said. 

After completing on-campus didactic work and first semester clinical training, Wood conducted and completed his senior project: “IV Acetaminophen Administration Timing and Postoperative Pain Management After a General or Spinal Orthopedic Anesthetic Procedure.” He researched the topic as a result of his training experiences. “I had seen several providers give IV acetaminophen at different times during pre-op, intra-op and post-op, all with different rationales as to why they administered it at those times,” he said.

Each morning at CHI Creighton/Bergan, the anesthesia department holds a brief meeting to discuss—among other things—big cases from the night before and pertinent cases for the day. Each staff huddle is attended by nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologists, medical students and student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs). A SRNA is generally asked to give a short presentation, and Ann Glow, DNP, CRNA, Clarkson College Nurse Anesthesia Program Coordinator and Wood’s advisor, was practicing at CHI Creighton/Bergan the day that Wood presented the findings of his senior project.

Wood discussed his research regarding the IV acetaminophen administration timing as part of the non- opioid anesthetic. His research referenced many articles that stated earlier medication administration could lead to better postoperative pain control.

“IV acetaminophen is a very hot topic within the anesthesia world because of its comparative cost to oral acetaminophen, which is approximately $75 compared to $.03 per 1000mg oral dose,” Dr. Glow said. “For cost reasons, many practitioners give IV acetaminophen at the end of their cases as a cost-saving measure to avoid giving a second dose four to six hours later, when the patient may still be in surgery or in post- anesthesia recovery.”

Wood’s presentation opened the door for a discussion on earlier administration of IV acetaminophen. “I have noticed that many of my anesthesiologists are ordering IV acetaminophen to be given in the preoperative preparation area,” Dr. Glow said. “It is rewarding to see evidenced-based practice in action and witness a Clarkson College student playing a small part in this change.”

The contributions of Florence Henderson and Steven Wood are two examples of the many Clarkson College alumni leaders and pioneers improving the health care field. Graduates continue to build upon the past by promoting medical advances through research and the careful implementation of its findings. By making their mark in health care history, they demonstrate a dedication to the College Values, quality health care and a commitment to influence the future.