Specialty Spotlight

Specialty Spotlight: Are You Up for the Nurse Anesthetist Profession?


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Decision-making autonomy combined with caring for acutely ill patients is all in a day's work for a nurse anesthetist. It is a mentally and physically challenging, yet rewarding career path, according to Wanda Wilson, Ph.D., CRNA, who is current president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

Wilson emphasizes that students are the future of the nurse anesthetist profession. Here, the associate professor and program director of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing master’s degree program/nurse anesthesia major offers advice to nursing students and new grads interested in pursuing an advanced degree in nurse anesthesia.

What do you enjoy most about being a nurse anesthetist?

I love the day-to-day interactions with patients and their families. While evaluating and assessing the patient before anesthesia and surgery, you develop a rapport with the patient, answer questions, and provide knowledge of their course.

Providing comfort and alleviating pain is a major action for the nurse anesthetist while selecting a specific anesthetic plan for each individual patient.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue this career path?

I first learned about the profession of nurse anesthesia when I was in high school. A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) spoke about her profession at a career day. After researching the career more and making that decision to become a CRNA,

I must admit that I have never regretted that day that I made that choice and feel that it has been the best decision of my life. It is an amazing job.

What can a new nurse anesthetist expect in the first few months or the first year on the job?

For a new nurse anesthetist, the first few months or the first year on the job will be a period of rapid continual growth as a nurse anesthetist in terms of building confidence and experiencing autonomy as an advanced practice nurse to make clinical decisions.

What is the most challenging part of the role of nurse anesthetist?

Depending on the acuity of the patient and the type of facility where the CRNA works, the challenge can range from keeping the very acutely ill patient stable under anesthesia to working long hours in the operating room or to rapid, efficient turnover for the multiple cases scheduled any given day.

The work can be both physically and mentally challenging, as well as stressful.

What is one critical piece of advice you would offer a nursing student or new graduate interested in pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist?

If you are serious about going into nurse anesthesia as a career, you need to shadow a nurse anesthetist at work for a day and then you need to look deep inside yourself to make sure you know exactly what you are getting involved with, the incredible importance of the service you will be providing, and the decision-making autonomy you will experience.

You need to ask yourself: Am I up for this profession? If the answer is yes, you will not be sorry you choose nurse anesthesia as a career path.

What other tips do you have?

I advise interested nursing students and graduates to seek critical care knowledge and experience with acutely and chronically ill patients. Study and ask questions. If possible, take chemistry, physics and biochemistry courses to build the basis for anesthesia studies. As a nursing graduate, study and take the CCRN (critical care exam), as well as possibly some of the graduate-level core science or nursing courses for the anesthesia program.

What are the important steps to take to prepare for admission to the NA program?

When preparing for admission to a nurse anesthesia program, applicants should have a good knowledge base in pharmacology and physiology, electrocardiograms and blood gas analysis, as well as experience with ventilators, multiple drug infusions and invasive monitoring lines.

The applicants will need current ACLS and PALS certifications, as well as a current license for a registered nurse. It is also necessary to meet university requirements since all nurse anesthesia programs are graduate level. These requirements may include certain levels for the GRE and GPA, references, a bachelor’s degree and an unrestricted nursing licensure.

For more information, visit the Web site of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.