Alumni Spotlight: Keely Cardwell

Graceland School of Nursing alum Keely Cardwell `07

Keely Cardwell graduated from Graceland in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). After working as an RN for seven years, she is currently finishing a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) at the University of Kansas. Horizons caught up with Keely to hear about her burgeoning career and Graceland memories.

Keely knew two things from a young age: she wanted to attend Graceland, and she wanted a career in anesthesia. Graceland was the natural choice for a daughter of two Gracelanders, Byron Thomas ‘76 and Lori Thomas (Chandler). Keely grew up Community of Christ, attending Spectacular each summer and looking up to the college students on staff. Graceland was her first choice for undergraduate.

At a fourth grade career day, her classmate’s parent talked about their job in anesthesia. The idea stuck in Keely’s mind, and she shadowed an anesthesiologist in high school. She has several family members in medical professions, and she decided to follow a path to nurse anesthesia.

To obtain her BSN, Keely studied at Graceland’s Lamoni campus for three years, then attended Graceland’s School of Nursing in Independence for another year and a half. Although it was hard to leave her friends in Lamoni, she cherishes the lifelong friendships she made on both campuses.

“The community at Graceland is truly unique and allows relationships to form deep roots that last a lifetime,” Keely shared. “I was also a cheerleader at Graceland for two years (2003-05). I enjoyed cheering for football and basketball games, and this is ultimately how I met my husband, Casey Cardwell ‘05. He was a fellow cheerleader.”

Keely also valued the world-class education she received at Graceland. Sharon Little-Stoetzel was among her favorite teachers in the nursing program. “She taught our pharmacology class and had such an upbeat way of teaching that made this difficult subject manageable. She was always kind and encouraging.”

After Graceland, Keely and Casey moved to Oregon, then to Idaho, before heading to the University of Kansas so Keely could work toward her DNAP. Casey was a religion major at Graceland, then obtained an EMS degree to work as a paramedic. Both have dedicated their careers to serving others in times of crisis.

“I hope I am able to affect change in my part of the world through my patient care. I chose anesthesia so I could be a kind and calming presence for someone before surgery,” Keely said. “Sometimes this is the most difficult time for a patient and/or their family. I hope I am able to provide some reassurance that they are not alone, and I will be present during the surgery to provide competent and vigilant care of them and their family.”

This commitment to serving others is heroic, but nurse anesthetists don’t often get proper recognition for their knowledge and work.

“In Kansas alone, CRNAs provide approximately 70 percent of the anesthesia services,” Keely shared. “CRNAs are the predominant anesthesia providers in the armed forces and the Veterans Affairs health care system nationwide.”

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) 2016 Practice Profile Survey, CRNAs safely administer approximately 43 million anesthetics to patients each year in the United States. Keely has accepted a job in Boise, Idaho after she graduates. She will work for an anesthesia group for the St. Luke’s Health system in Boise and the surrounding suburbs. She is excited to get back to Idaho where she and her husband enjoy camping, hiking, biking and a generally active lifestyle.

Graceland’s influence on her life is immeasurable; her marriage, career, and lifelong friendships all started through the nurturing and empowering process of education where she found success.


"The community at Graceland is truly unique and allows relationships to form deep roots that last a lifetime."
~Keely Cardwell `07