Happy National CRNA Week from all of us at Premier Physician Services LLC! In honor of this special occasion, we are dedicating this month’s blog post to the nurses that provide anesthetics to patients in every practice setting and for every type of procedure. Come along with us as we explore what CRNAs do, 13 surprising facts that you may not know about this specialty and what the career outlook is for this field.

What is a CRNA?

CRNA administering anesthesiaA CRNA (short for a certified registered nurse anesthetist) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that administers anesthesia and other medications for surgery, labor and delivery, emergency care or pain management. In addition to administering anesthesia, CRNAs are responsible for monitoring patients that are under and recovering from sedation.

To qualify as a CRNA, an individual must first obtain a registered nurse (RN) license and complete a master’s degree program that focuses on anesthesia. After completing their education, the clinician must then complete extensive clinician training and pass a certification exam approved by the National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Once their education and training are completed, CRNAs can choose to specialize within a specific field (e.g., pediatrics, obstetrics, dental, neurological, cardiovascular). Additionally, many CRNAs choose to join anesthesia and/or subspecialty organizations to further hone their knowledge and skills. Some of the most popular organizations include:

13 Surprising CRNA Facts

Do you think you know everything there is to know about CRNAs? Put our 13 surprising CRNA facts to the test. Keep reading to discover some interesting information about this in-demand field.

1. The nurse anesthetist specialty came into existence during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865). During that time, nurses working in field hospitals were called upon to administer anesthesia (chloroform) to soldiers that were badly wounded or undergoing surgery. Catherine S. Lawrence is known as the first nurse to administer anesthesia. This historic moment took place during and after the Second Battle of Bull Run.

2. Prior to nurse anesthetists, medical students were tasked with administering anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery. However, this quickly proved to be a costly mistake. Medical students were more interested in observing the procedure than attending to the patient. This resulted in higher mortality rates. Surgeons soon decided that the task was best suited to nurses since they were more likely to give the patient their undivided attention. After this change was made, mortality rates improved.

3. Many of the nation’s earliest hospitals were established by religious orders. As a result, Catholic nuns played a prominent role in the development of the nurse anesthetist specialty. Formally trained as nurses, nuns would be tasked with administering anesthesia as a routine part of patient care. Sister Mary Bernard, a nun that practiced in the 1870s at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, is recognized as the “first official” nurse to specialize in anesthesia.

4. Agnes McGee established the first school of nurse anesthesia in 1909 at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, Oregon. The original program was just seven months long and included courses on anatomy and physiology, pharmacology and the administration of available anesthetic agents. Over the next ten years, 19 more training programs popped up across the country.

5. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) was founded in 1931. The AANA’s founding objectives were to establish a national qualifying exam and to establish an accreditation program for nurse anesthesia schools. Today, the association represents over 57,000 certified registered nurse anesthetists and student registered nurse anesthetists nationwide.

6. The AANA implemented a certification program in 1945. The first certification examination was administered to 92 candidates.

7. The AANA estimates that CRNAs are responsible for administering 49 million anesthetics to patients annually in the United States.

8. According to the S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest number of CRNAs (approximately 22,870) work in physicians’ offices. This is followed by general medical/surgical hospitals (14,420 CRNAs) and outpatient care centers (1,910 CRNAs).

9. Approximately 40% of all nurse anesthetists are male. By comparison, only 10% are male in the nursing profession as a whole.

10. According to the Medical Care journal, there is no statistically significant difference in the risk of anesthesia complications based on the degree of restrictions placed on a CRNA by state SOP laws. Furthermore, the Health Affairs journal states that there is no difference in patient outcomes when anesthesia services are provided by a CRNA, a physician or a CRNA supervised by a physician.

11. Nurse anesthetists have a long-standing relationship with America’s armed forces. Since WWI, they have been the main providers of anesthesia to wounded soldiers on the front lines. Today, they can also be found on navy ships, aircraft evacuation teams, military bases, veterans’ hospitals, etc.

12. The CRNA is widely regarded as the primary provider of anesthesia in rural America, making obstetrical, surgical, pain management and trauma stabilization services available to medically underserved populations. In some states, they are the sole provider of anesthesia in nearly 100% of the rural hospitals.

13. In January 2020, the CRNA profession was ranked 21st on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of the Top 25 Best Jobs.

Career Outlook

Because there is no difference in patient outcomes when anesthesia services are provided by a CRNA, they are often seen as a cost-effective hire, especially when compared with an anesthesiologist. Furthermore, the healthcare industry’s emphasis on preventative care and the demand for more healthcare services from a growing aging population means there is a high demand for advanced practice nurses. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of nurse anesthetists will grow by 45% between 2019 and 2029. In other words, it is a great time to be a CRNA!

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Explore additional resources from Premier Physician Services LLC:

5 Benefits of a Locum Tenens Agency
7 Benefits of Locum Tenens Work
Communicating from Behind the Mask
Navigating the Time Between Locum Tenens Contracts
Protecting Your Mental Health: 7 Tips for Navigating Stress and Uncertainty