Nurse Anesthesia as a Career

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As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), you are an advanced practice nurse who is trained to safely provide anesthesia services to surgical, obstetrical, and trauma patients. You collaborate with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified health care professionals to provide anesthesia and related care before and after medical procedures. In addition, you may provide pain management and emergency services, such as airway management. When anesthesia is administered by a nurse anesthetist, it is recognized as the practice of nursing; when administered by an anesthesiologist, it is considered the practice of medicine. Regardless, all anesthesia professionals deliver anesthesia in the same way.

All advanced practice nursing specialties, including nurse anesthetists, require advanced education that incorporates classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other health care facilities. You will take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry, pharmacology, nutrition, psychology and other behavioral sciences, and nursing. Principles of anesthesia practice, including physics, equipment, technology, and pain management are also covered. You may also be required to study methods of scientific inquiry and statistics and participate in student and/or faculty research.

Supervised clinical experience takes you into hospital departments such as pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity, and surgery, where you learn anesthesia techniques, test theories, and apply your knowledge to clinical problems. You may also receive clinical experience in nursing care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory clinics. Upon completion of your graduate-level education, you are prepared to sit for the certification examination, which results, when successful, in the CRNA designation.

While you are trained to deliver anesthesia and related care in a variety of general clinical settings where you function with a high degree of autonomy and professional respect, you may also choose to specialize in pediatric, obstetric, cardiovascular, plastic, dental, or neurosurgical anesthesia. Or you may provide clinical support services outside of the operating room, in areas such as MRI units, cardiac catheterization labs, and lithotripsy units.

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA):

  • CRNAs practice in every setting where anesthesia is delivered: traditional hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms; critical access hospitals; ambulatory surgical centers; offices of dentists, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, and pain management specialists; the U.S. military, public health services, and Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.
  • Nurse anesthetists first provided anesthesia  on the battlefields of the American Civil War and have been the main providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military men and women on the front lines since WWI; today, CRNAs continue to be the primary providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military personnel on front lines, navy ships, and aircraft evacuation teams around the globe.
  • CRNAs are the primary anesthesia providers in rural America, inner cities, and other underserved areas, allowing obstetrical, surgical, and trauma stabilization services to be offered to patients in these locations.
  • Each year, CRNAs administer approximately 30 million anesthetics to patients in the United States.
  • As with the overall need for nurses to provide care for an expanding and aging population, the demand for nurse anesthetists is expected to remain strong.

If you are interested in pursuing advanced nursing knowledge or specialization; are caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented; able to direct or supervise others; can correctly assess patients' conditions and determine when consultation is required; able to work as a member of the healthcare team; possess the emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses, a career as a nurse anesthetist may be just right for you.

Sources: American Physical Therapy Association; US Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Quarterly;


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