News at WilmU

‘Dream and Achieve’: Trailblazing WilmU Nursing Grad Inspires Others

Dr. Johnny Gayden

Dr. Johnny Gayden

Frightened, anxious, worried — these are just some of the normal emotions patients may feel before surgery, but there’s an ally in their corner: Dr. Johnny Gayden, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) whose warm personality and calming presence help put patients at ease. 

“A big part of being a nurse anesthetist is to advocate on behalf of the patient,” says Dr. Gayden, who wants people to be in “a good frame of mind” before receiving anesthesia at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. He tells them to “enjoy their nap,” assuring them he will be there when they wake up and throughout the entire process. 

Dr. Gayden earned his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Wilmington University and teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. According to the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program, he’s one of only seven Black male CRNA full-time faculty members nationwide. 

“He is truly a phenomenal person,” says Dr. Aaron Sebach, dean of WilmU’s College of Health Professions and Natural Sciences. “He’s one of the most memorable students I’ve worked with in the doctoral program.” 

“A big part of being a nurse anesthetist is to advocate on behalf of the patient.”
— Dr. Johnny Gayden

The youngest of 13 children, Dr. Gayden grew up in rural Louisiana, losing his mother when he was just 6 years old and then his father, who was a sharecropper, at age 13. His oldest sister raised him with help from other family members. 

“There are a lot of reasons I could have stopped. There were a lot of times I wanted to stop, but I wanted to be a nurse anesthetist,” says Dr. Gayden, remembering his parents who were “born in the ’20s and ’30s” and didn’t have access to much education. “I think I am achieving many of the dreams they probably wished they could have.” 

Now a parent, Dr. Gayden adopted a newborn as a single dad while studying at WilmU.  

“That’s my joy,” he says, describing his 4-year-old daughter. “She keeps me going.” 

Dr. Gayden — a past president of the Maryland Association of Nurse Anesthetists and president-elect of the Association of Veterans Affairs Nurse Anesthetists — plans to pursue a doctorate in health policy and hopes to become the dean of nursing at a university. 

“You can be a trailblazer in any profession. It takes determination and grit. Never underestimate the influence you may have on others,” says Dr. Sebach, calling his former student a role model. 

“I’ve never seen myself as a role model. I have considered myself a mentor,” says Dr. Gayden. “I’m just trying to be a good person and support others,” adding that his goal “is not only to help people but to bring people together.”  

And his advice is heartfelt: “Don’t give up. Just continue to dream and achieve.”  

Wilmington University logoWilmington University’s flexible and affordable Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program helps students become expert clinicians and health care leaders. 

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