Harrisburg business graduate and nurse anesthetist finds purpose in giving

Suzanne Miller

Suzanne Miller

Credit: Suzanne Miller

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — As a longtime healthcare professional who has seen the field from many roles and perspectives, Suzanne Miller is keenly aware of the benefits of having highly educated nursing students. The Suzanne and James Miller Scholarship at Penn State Harrisburg, created by Miller and her late husband, James, is helping both future nurses and the patients and communities they will ultimately serve. 

Miller earned her diploma in nursing from the Saint Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Lancaster in 1973. After working a year at Polyclinic Hospital in Harrisburg, she spent two years as an ER nurse at Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill, now Penn State Health Holy Spirit, and ultimately went back to school at the Harrisburg Area School of Anesthesia to land her dream job as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. 

“I had a cousin and aunt who were also nurses, and I thought ‘I’ll go to school to become a nurse.’ Once I graduated from nursing school and worked bedside, though, I knew I wanted more,” said Miller. “The CRNA’s at the hospital spoke to me and advised me to go to anesthesia school, so I applied, got accepted, and it's been the best career choice I've ever made. I loved it.” 

And although there was a draw to nurse anesthesia, Miller chose to transition into healthcare management. Going back to school once more, she received a business administration degree from Penn State Harrisburg in 1989, and then her M.B.A. from DeSales University in 1999.  

Miller went on to have a successful career in hospital management for 10 years at Pinnacle Health in Harrisburg. Despite this, Miller still felt her original calling, left hospital management, and went back into anesthesiology, contracting herself out independently to various hospitals for nine years, and then worked for a local hospital and G.I. center until she retired. 

Her time spent as a nurse anesthetist, as well as the experience and loyalty that she and her husband share as Penn State Harrisburg graduates, inspired the couple to ease the way for future nursing students with a scholarship at the campus. 

Miller said, “We felt that it was important to try to keep the nursing graduates in the area. I was very impressed by Penn State Harrisburg’s second-degree program for those with other degrees to earn nursing credentials, with the program’s extremely high standards as well as the students’ dedication and commitment to the program.” 

Miller explained that recipients of the scholarship are required to maintain a certain GPA, but otherwise are chosen by the nursing faculty at Penn State. She explained that some of the recipients have been practicing physicians from Cuba, who had dreams of coming to the U.S. to pursue their career in medicine. 

Established in 2018, the scholarship is already having an impact. “We've received letters from recipients who write about their appreciation for receiving the scholarship, their nursing aspirations goals, and thanking us, so it's been rewarding in that sense,” said Miller. “Given the nursing shortage and nurses leaving the field due to the pandemic, I’m hoping the scholarship will enable more people to go into nursing and be able to fill those needed areas in the health care field.” 

Miller is motivated to give not only financially, but also with her time. She is actively involved with Operation Medical, a nonprofit organization of trained medical professional volunteers who provide high-quality medical care and education to communities in other countries that do not have adequate access to these urgent needs. 

Traveling to different countries, volunteering her time as a nurse anesthetist to help those less fortunate, only reinforced Miller’s commitment to giving. “It's been transforming to see our patients, especially women and children, after surgery. Whether we do a cleft lip or scar revisions, mothers, fathers, and family members are so appreciative for how it transforms their loved one’s lives,” said Miller. 

While James passed away in March, Miller looks to maintain the couple’s lasting impact on Penn State Nursing. Miller continues to support nursing students through yearly contributions to the scholarship and looks forward to seeing what other giving opportunities are available to support more nursing students. 

“I was so appreciative of all of the nurses who took care of my husband while he was sick,” Miller said. “My husband and I developed the scholarship because we not only wanted to give back to the school where we both graduated from, but we both felt compelled to do more for nursing students at the Harrisburg campus. I want to help them become the best nurses they can be in order to provide care for others.” 

With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy is helping to sustain the University’s mission of education, research and service to communities across the commonwealth and around the globe. Scholarships enable Penn State to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences allows students and faculty to fulfill their vast potential for leadership, and gifts toward discovery and excellence help serve and impact the world. To learn more about the impact of giving and the continuing need for support, please visit raise.psu.edu.