MHSA – About Us

Meet the Faculty & Staff


Michael Nichols

Michael Nichols

Dean, Anesthesiologist Assistant Programs, Program Director, Master of Health Sciences in Anesthesia Program

Michael currently serves as the Dean of Anesthesiologist Assistant Programs at the Edwards Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and Program Director for the Master of Health Science in Anesthesia Program at Bluefield University. Founder of both Avance Education Solutions (private management consultancy) and the Foundation for Advancement of the Anesthesia Care Team (non-profit organization), Michael Nichols has held Assistant Professorships of Anesthesiology within the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University and Nova Southeastern University. He served in leadership positions in both locations as the Director of Program Development and Assistant Program Director, respectively. As the Director of Program Development at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, he oversaw all business development, project management, operations, and shared services for the regional program locations for the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine.

Practicing as a respected anesthesia clinician for over 22 years, Michael currently holds a Master of Science from Case Western Reserve University and his Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in Business Analytics from the University of Dayton. He continues to be involved in his profession’s national organizations, as he has for many years. Most notably, his having served as the President of the American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants in 2007 and in 2011. Additionally, he holds the honor of having served as the first non-physician to be appointed to the Executive Board of the American Society of Anesthesiologists Political Action Committee.

Gary Bridges, DO, PharmD

Gary Bridges, DO, PharmD

Co-Medical Director

Dr. GaryBridges is both a registered pharmacist as well as a physician anesthesiologist and has worked as a partner with Anesthesia Associates of East Alabama (AAEA). Throughout his career, Dr. Bridges has assumed several administrative positions with both his practice group, East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC), and the Alabama medical communityhe currently serves as Chief of Staff at EAMC, Chief of Anesthesia within AAEA, PresidentElect of the Alabama State Society of Anesthesiologists, and Chair of the Board of the Political action committee for the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. During his clinical career as a physician anesthesiologist, Dr. Bridges has taught rotating Anesthesiologist Assistant and NurseAnesthetist students, medical students rotating in anesthesiology, as well as advanced airway management to respiratory therapy practitioners.

William Potter, MD

William Potter, MD

Co-Medical Director

William (‘Will’) Potter is a Georgia native and currently serves as the CoMedical Director of the program and is based at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Dr. Potter received his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and then a Master of Healthcare Administration from the University of Alabama Birmingham. He completed his anesthesiology residency and regional anesthesia fellowship at UAB and joined the Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville in 2019. In his role as CoMedical Director, Dr. Potter oversees the learning curriculum for students rotating in the Northeast Georgia region, is a member of the Division of Clinical Affairs, serves on the Admissions and Programmatic Effectiveness Committee, cochairs the Educational ContentSubcommittee of the Advisory Council, and is the Course Director for the Capstone Project in Quality Improvement.

Ralph Dapaah, CAA

Ralph Dapaah, CAA

Assistant Program Director for Clinical Affairs

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Ralph Dapaah currently serves as Chief Anesthetist with Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville, where he specializes in Cardiothoracic and Obstetric Anesthesiology. He completed his Masters of Health Sciences in Anesthesiology at Nova Southeastern University in 2011 with honors and subsequently earned the Chancellor’s Award. Currently, Ralph serves on the American Academy of Anesthesiologists Assistants (AAAA) as a member of the Board of Directors. He previously served as President of the Georgia Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (GAAA), and as a board member of (GAAA). His involvement in both the state and national level anesthesia academies has always been his passion along with academia, “the chance to help educate, influence, and mold our future anesthesia professionals is undeniably one of the most gratifying aspects of being an anesthesia professional and educator.” His hobbies include playing multiple sports, wake surfing, snowboarding, going to the beach, attending concerts, and is a huge foodie.

John Graeber, CAA, MBA

John Graeber, CAA, MBA

Assistant Program Director for Simulation

As Assistant Program Director for Simulation, John is responsible for the coordination of the simulation-based learning components of the Master of Health Science in Anesthesia Program curriculum. His goal is to educate students to act as competent entry-level anesthesia providers and as professional members of the health care industry. Originally from the Mississippi Delta, John received his Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Georgia in Athens and his Master of Business Administration from Mercer University in Atlanta. He later pursued his Master of Medical Science in Anesthesiology from Emory University’s College of Medicine, where he was awarded the Wesley J. Frazier Achievement Award. This award is given to the graduating senior who entered the program from a non-clinical background and who maintained one of the highest levels of academic performance in both classroom and clinical areas. After graduating from Emory, he practiced as a CAA at Piedmont Hospital and at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta-Egleston Hospital. John has also worked for Karl Storz Endoscopy, where he helped design and support clinical training and education of video-laryngoscopy and bronchoscopy for various Difficult Airway Courses and other national exhibits.

Gary Jones, CAA

Gary Jones, CAA

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Gary currently serves as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the Master of Health Science in Anesthesia Program. He was the Chief Learning Officer of both Avance Education Solutions and My Chief Learning Officer LLC (private management consultancies). Gary has held Assistant Professorships of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine within the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University and Nova Southeastern University. He is the former Program Director Case WesternHouston Anesthesiologist Assistant Program. Gary holds a Master of Science from Case Western Reserve University and additional graduate M.Ed. work from the University of Georgia. He has been a practicing anesthesiologist assistant for 23 years, 16 years in Atlanta, Georgia, and 7 years in Houston Texas. He has remained very active in the profession’s national organizations. He has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (AAAA) and the Texas Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants. He has served on CAAHEP’s Accreditation Review Committee for Anesthesiologist Assistants as a site visitor. Mr. Jones holds the honor of being the second Anesthesiologist Assistant to be appointed to the Executive Board of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Political Action Committee.

Amanda Kowalewski, MEd, MMSc, CAA

Amanda Kowalewski, MEd, MMSc, CAA

Program Faculty

Amanda is a native of Alabama and currently resides in Smiths Station, not far from Auburn. At an early age, she became an Auburn fan and eventually landed there for her undergraduate education where she earned a BS in (pre-med) microbiology. After working in an environmental lab for a year and exploring career options, she returned to Auburn to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology. She taught several biology and microbiology labs as a graduate teaching assistant during this time. Upon completion of the coursework for that degree, Amanda switched gears and transferred to the College of Education to pursue a Master of Education in secondary science. She completed that degree but decided to, once again, make a change. A soccer friend told her about this anesthesiologist assistant program (which she didn’t even know existed), and she decided to take a chance on it. She was accepted to Emory University’s AA program and graduated with a Master of Medical Science 27 months later. FINALLY, she was done with formal schooling! She worked in Rome, GA for 4 years and then moved to the Columbus, GA area to take a new job closer to family. Amanda has been with this group for the past 14 years. Along the way, she met her husband (who was her CrossFit coach) and had two boys. She spends most of her free time on playgrounds, soccer/baseball fields, and chasing her boys around! She loves to ski and travel and hopes to resume playing tennis when her boys get a little older. She is very excited about the opportunity to instruct and help mold future AAs as it is truly the best career she ever imagined having. And she is VERY happy to be back at her alma mater! War Eagle!

Gary Mount, PharmD

Gary Mount, PharmD

Program Faculty

Dr. Gary Mount graduated in 1990 with a BS in pharmacy from Auburn University; in 2006 with his PharmD from the University of Florida, Magna cum Laude and recognized with a Superior Academic Achievement Award. Gary is married to Fatima, and they have three children Zack, Nick, and Gabby, and two daughters-in-law, Merry and Ilga. Gary has served as a staff pharmacist, clinical pharmacist, assistant director and director of a small hospital, and director of the pharmacy for a large institution for eleven years, where he provided strategic leadership for 80 employees. Gary’s retail experience has been in the chain and independent and as director of an independent. Having worked in many settings, Gary has a broad view of the pharmacy profession. Currently, Gary is an Assistant Pharmacology Professor at Edward Via College of Medicine, where he lectures on all body systems and conducts research with a special interest in pharmacogenomics.


William Summerford, MS, MHSc, CAA

William Summerford, MS, MHSc, CAA

Program Faculty

Will is a born and bred Alabamian who graduated from Auburn University with both a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences and a Master of Science degree in the same field. After sadly leaving Auburn, Will worked as a neurophysiologist throughout the states of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. He provided intraoperative neuromomonitoring services for various surgeries, particularly surgeries of the head, neck, and spine. Will then completed his Master of Health Sciences in Anesthesiology from Nova Southeastern University in Tampa, FL in 2013, completing his degree with honors and earning the Chancellor’s Award. After graduating from Nova, Will has worked as a Certified Anesthesiologist Assistant at hospitals in Georgia and Alabama. Will recently formed and serves as the President of the Alabama Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (ALAAA). His hobbies include deer and duck hunting, saltwater fishing, mediocre golfing and spending time with his wife Allison and their two children.


Ashley Anne Cahalan

Ashley Anne Cahalan

Director of Admissions

Ashley Anne is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to Auburn in 2011. She graduated from Auburn University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where she taught for two years. She returned to the Plains to teach Special Education for five more years in the Auburn and Opelika area. In 2021, she obtained her Master’s degree from Auburn University in Early Childhood Special Education. Ashley Anne has always had a passion for education, developing meaningful relationships with students, and finding a way to help them succeed. She is looking forward to the opportunity to continue expanding her passion for Higher Education and working with the incoming MHSA students. She currently resides in Opelikawith her French Bulldog, Stevie. She loves to travel, work out at Orange Theory, and spend time with family and friends. She frequents Lake Martin and loves all things Auburn, especially sports, War Eagle!

MaryBeth Smith

MaryBeth Smith

Executive Administrative Assistant

MaryBeth Smith currently serves as the Executive Administrative Assistant for the Anesthesiologist Assistant (MHSA) Program. Prior to joining the VCOM-Bluefield team, MaryBeth received a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and a minor in Psychology from Auburn University while working in the Athletics Director and Head Football Coach’s Office. MaryBeth worked for Auburn Sports Properties as the Partner Services Assistant from 2019-2021, while pursuing a Master of Science in Sports Administration, which she received in May 2021. Most recently, MaryBeth served as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Hunger Solutions Institute in the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University.

During her free time, MaryBeth enjoys spending time with her husband, Clarke, and her family, being outdoors and playing with their two dogs, Basil and Kena.

Mirandia Edwards

Mirandia Edwards

Administrative Assistant

Mirandia Edwards currently serves as the Administrative Assistant for the Anesthesiologist Assistant (MHSA) Program. She is an experienced managerial & business administration professional with many years of experience. Her background includes social work, primarily working for non-profits by providing case management, facilitating youth programs, and grant writing. Mirandia enjoys meeting new people, traveling, and spending time with her family.

Advisory Council

Roben Casey, JD

Vice President & General Counsel

East Alabama Medical Center

Ralph Dapaah, CAA

Chief Anesthetist / MHSA Assistant Program Director for Clinical Affairs (pending)

Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville

John Delzell, MD, MSPH

Vice President for Medical Education & Designated Institutional Officer

Northeast Georgia Health System

Emily Lambert, PhD

Dean, College of Science & Health Sciences

Bluefield University

Ryan Neil, MD

Physician Anesthesiologist & Medical Director

Southern Anesthesia Management (Mobile Division)

Heath Parker, DO

Dean, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (Auburn Campus)

VCOM (Auburn)

John Rocovich, JD

Founder & Chair, Board of Trustees

Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM)

Megan Varellas, CAA


National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants

Cary Chandler, BS, AMP

Senior Director / Director, Business Development & Startups

Auburn Research & Technology Foundation / Auburn University

Kraig de Lanzac, MD

Physician Anesthesiologist / Assistant Secretary & Chair for the Section on Representation

American Society of Anesthesiologists

Maurice Gilbert, MD

Physician Anesthesiologist & Past President

Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists

Lloyd Meeks, MD


Anesthesiology & Critical Care Medicine

Gregory Nichols, PMP, MBA

Assistant Vice President, Cash Product Office

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Jeff Plagenhoef, MD

Physician Anesthesiologist & Past President

American Society of Anesthesiologists

Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, DO

President & Provost

Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM)

Robert Wagner, CAA, DHSc

Chair, Department of Anesthesia

Nova Southeastern University

Anesthesiologist Assistant Information

Program Application Timeline

If you’re planning to apply to the Anesthesiologist Assistant program, it’s best to start early.

Applications for the June 5th, 2024, program start are due in late June for early admission and no later than mid-November for standard admission.  No matter which interview cycle you choose, starting early will give you more time to prepare and polish your application.  Applying early will also increase your odds of being admitted as the VCOM-Bluefield program runs on a rolling admissions cycle throughout the academic year.

Here’s a sample schedule for a student hoping to enter the MHSA Program in the Summer of 2024.  This is the best-case scenario, which leaves time to craft a great application, resolve unforeseen issues (i.e. a lost transcript, a delinquent recommendation, etc.), and submit with time to spare.  Of course, you’ll need to adjust this schedule if you intend to apply for early admission.

November 2022: Begin researching the Anesthesiologist Assistant profession, investigating potential programs, joining online forums for prospective AA students, and visiting the MHSA Program in Auburn.

February 2023: Request information programs that interest you and consider visiting the program or shadowing a CAA in the clinical setting – they can recommend a good program fit and may even help you make some connections.

March 2023: Begin writing your Personal Statement and identifying whom you’d like to write your Letters of Recommendation.

April 2023: Finalize your list of programs to which you will apply. Familiarize yourself with the CAA profession, the program, and the academic institution.  Contact your recommenders and continue to polish your Personal Statement.

May 2023: Request official transcripts from any secondary education institution from which you’ve received a degree, enrolled in coursework, or were issued a certificate.  Send your recommenders supplemental materials (like your resume, personal statement, etc.) that they can use as a reference.  Contact students and professors at your AA programs of interest – arrange a program visit, if you can.

June 2023: Have someone in the medical field (preferably in anesthesiology, surgery, or perioperative services) and a few friends read over your Personal Statement.

June – September 2023: Complete and submit all applications, keeping two copies of every section for your records.  Verify that your recommendations have been sent.  Complete the online behavioral analysis assessment test.

July – October 2023: Interview at the MHSA program and any other program of interest.  Try to relax while you wait out hearing back from the programs.

November 2023: Focus on financial aid – fill out all federal loan paperwork and look into private loans, grants, and fellowships. Attend the MHSA Program Open House in Auburn.

August – December 2022: Celebrate your acceptance!  Appeal the aid package (or apply for alternative loans) if the amount offered doesn’t meet your needs.


History of the AA Profession

A realization that the field of anesthesiology was experiencing serious staffing shortages culminated in the early 1960s.  To meet growing demands, in response to the shortage and with concerns over the increasing complexity of anesthesia and surgery, three anesthesiologists (Drs. Gravenstein, Steinhaus, and Volpitto) proposed the concept of an “anesthesia technologist” who would be a member of the anesthesia team and would be considered an “applied physiologist”. This was the precursor to what is now the Certified Anesthesiologist Assistant (CAA).  The three physicians designed an educational program whereby matriculates would build on an undergraduate premedical education then obtain a master’s degree in anesthesiology. This practitioner would perform the same job as the nurse anesthetist but would be able to go on to medical school if they desired. This new professional, the “Anesthesiologist Assistant”, or CAA, thus had the potential to alleviate the shortage that was occurring in anesthesia. The concept became reality in 1969 when the first Anesthesiologist Assistant training program began accepting students at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, followed shortly thereafter by a second program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

It was envisioned that this new anesthesia professional would have a bachelor’s degree in science with premedical training and be awarded a master’s degree that allowed for both vertical mobility toward a medical degree and lateral mobility into other areas requiring training in biomedical equipment and physiologic measurement. The Certified Anesthesiologist Assistant would remain under the supervision of the anesthesiologist as responsibility and immediate care of the patient must remain within the province of the anesthesiologist; consequently, personnel could not work independently but only under the medical direction of the physician anesthesiologist. This provided an advantage for the physician anesthesiologist, as one physician could provide attention to several patients with the proper employment of the anesthesia team as described above.

Since its inception, the Anesthesiologist Assistant profession has grown, though it remains a largely regionalized profession. This is due to the small but growing number of educational programs, which until 2004 numbered only two, and to the limited number of jurisdictions, 17, where certified anesthesiologist assistants are authorized to practice. In 1989, the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA) was formed to establish a national certification process. Today, the American Society of Anesthesiologists considers Certified Anesthesiologist Assistants to be an advanced practice provider who work under the direction of a physician anesthesiologist and participate in the provision of anesthesia. Certified Anesthesiologist Assistants perform such tasks as administering drugs, obtaining vascular access, applying and interpreting monitors, establishing and maintaining patient airway, and assisting with preoperative assessment.

Certified Anesthesiologist Assistants enjoy a dynamic profession that continues to realize exponential growth as evidenced by the addition of new training sites and new states opening to CAA practice.

Ready To Apply?

Do I only apply once?

  • No. Students must apply each academic year for the fall semester and submit the necessary documents.

Do I have to take the classes specified in the Associate's Degree tracks as they are listed on the information sheet?

  • No. Students may take any of the courses that are offered in a given term.

Where do I find the textbook listing, and where do I purchase the books?

  • Log in to myBU, and under the "Student" tab, you will find a list of the textbooks required (if any) for each course. Students are responsible for purchasing their own textbooks.

How long is a semester?

  • Our semesters are divided into two 8-week terms.

Is there an orientation?

  • Yes. Students can attend an orientation session that explains how to access courses, how to register for classes, and answers other questions.

Where can I find a course description?

Does the student need to take the SAT or ACT in order to take Dual Enrollment classes?

  • No. If a student decides to study at BU full time, BU is currently test-optional for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle.

Are the classes live? Do students need to log in and participate at certain times?

  • Classes are offered online, so a student can log-on and study at their convenience and their own pace. Students have assignments due each week; you can complete your assignments at any point in time before the deadline.

Does an Early College student need to come to campus for anything?

  • No. However, we would love to have you visit our campus if you are interested in continuing with traditional on-campus study. Students who complete their associate's degree have the option to walk at our commencement ceremony.

Are Early College students able to receive Financial Aid?

  • No. However, Early College courses are very affordable compared to other options. The cost for an online Dual Enrollment course is $100 per credit hour.

How do transferring credits work?

  • Each College or University completes a transcript review in order to decide which courses transfer. Sticking to general education classes generally makes transferring credits simple. All Early College courses at Bluefield University are general education classes that should transfer to another accredited institution.

Is an Early College student considered, and treated, as a transfer student when they become a full-time college student if they have earned enough credits to be a Junior?

  • No. Since they have not graduated from high school, they are considered a first-time college student regardless of how many credits transfer. However, by transferring credits when they enroll as a full-time student, they will have to take fewer classes to receive their bachelor's degree, which shortens the length of time to earn the degree.

Can I speak to someone if I have more questions?

  • Yes. Please contact the Office of Admissions by email or you can call them at 276.326.4231


Meet our core Counseling faculty

Dr. Challen Mabry

Assistant Professor of Counseling

Dr. Kristen Moran

Associate Professor of Counseling

Brandy Smith

Assistant Professor of Education & Counseling,
Director of the Master of Arts in Counseling Program,
Title IX Confidential Counselor

Our team is here for you! How can we help?

This form requires credentials in order to request information.