MUSC DNAP graduate uses doctoral project to reduce opioid usage and is honored with professional impact award

Alumni Affairs
May 03, 2024
Jennifer Harpe-Bates receives the Kentucky Association of Nurse Anesthetists 2023 Professional Impact Award

After practicing as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) for 25 years, MUSC alumna Jennifer Harpe-Bates, DNAP, APRN, CRNA, faced career burnout and began looking for opportunities outside of the operating room.

Her decision to return to MUSC to earn her Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice degree breathed new life and recognition into her already successful career.

“I’m now 32 years into my career and more involved than ever,” Harpe-Bates says.

In Sept. of 2023, she received the Kentucky Association of Nurse Anesthetists 2023 Professional Impact award for her 30 years of service to the nurse anesthesiology profession and her passion for increasing opioid-sparing techniques in the operating room.

“CRNAs administer 50 million anesthetics in the U.S. annually,” she says. “I see that as 50 million opportunities to reduce exposure to opioids.”

Harpe-Bates lives and works in Kentucky, which ranked fourth in the U.S. for opioid usage and death in 2021.

Her doctoral project focused on transversus abdominis plane (TAP) blocks, a type of regional anesthesia that decreases the overall opioid requirements for surgical procedures by blocking and reducing the abdominal pain from an incision. “I wanted a doctoral project that would be impactful for my practice,” says Harpe-Bates. “I was encouraged by a surgeon who wanted us to provide the block, but no one knew how.”

She attended the first of many courses in regional anesthesia and began a project that would bring a positive cultural change to her field and local community.

By the end of her project, Harpe-Bates partnered with the Norton Leatherman Spine Center, a facility where high opioid use was common in surgical practice, and fellow CRNA Ben Sampedro to increase awareness about opioid-sparing regional anesthesia.

“Encouraging CRNAs full scope of practice by adding truncal blocks brought tremendous job satisfaction and was an excellent recruitment tool for new hires who were looking for a more autonomous practice,” says Harpe-Bates, who witnessed first-hand how well patients responded when opioid-sparing techniques were utilized, including a reduction in overall opioid usage and postoperative length of stay.

Her collaboration with the Norton Leatherman Spine Center led to multiple research studies and publications on the benefits of opioid reduction. “Patients will come from other states to have an opioid-free anesthetic,” says Harpe-Bates. “My doctoral project, Implementation of TAP Blocks, resulted in the creation of an acute surgical pain service in my hospital where CRNAs and anesthesiologists have parity in managing the pain service.”

Shortly after completing her doctorate, she was inspired by Angie Mund, DNP, CRNA, chair of MUSC’s Department of Clinical Sciences and professor in the anesthesia for nurses program, to get involved in further educating CRNAs.

Harpe-Bates currently serves as an associate professor for the University of Louisville Nurse Anesthesia program, the first nurse anesthesia program in the city. Clinically she works for NorthStar Anesthesia in Louisville, Kentucky. She has chaired the Kentucky Association of Nurse Anesthetists Program Committee for the last four years, developing two continuing education events each year with speakers from across the nation.

In Nov. of 2023, she was appointed by the governor of Kentucky to the newly-created CRNA seat on the Kentucky Board of Nursing.

Of all her accomplishments, she says being inducted as a fellow of the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology in 2023 has been the most rewarding moment in her career.

To CRNAs looking for leadership roles, Harpe-Bates stresses the importance of getting involved in your state association of nurse anesthetists and volunteering for committees within your hospital and state. “Be active and seen outside of your role in the operating room,” she says.