Nurse anesthetists play a big role in our healthcare industry by providing more than 34 million anesthetic treatments annually in the United States. Although most people know what an anesthesiologist does, many are left wondering how nurse anesthetists work into the picture. A nurse anesthetist is a highly trained advanced practice nurse (APN) who work under the supervision of anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, obstetricians, and other healthcare professionals to provide anesthesia care. In some rural settings, nurse anesthetists will even take the reins as the sole provider of anesthetics. Although complications from general anesthesia are rare, nurse anesthetists play close attention to their patients before, during, and after surgical procedures to ensure the highest possible level of comfort. From open heart surgery to childbirth and dental work, nurse anesthetists make certain that patients stay sedated and pain-free.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, the 36,590 nurse anesthetists currently working in America earn an average annual salary of $158,900, which could be equated to a mean hourly wage of $76.40. Nurse anesthetists who work in physician offices tend to make slightly below average at $156,700, but those employed by specialty hospitals earn the most with an average yearly salary of $171,120.
When nurses first are promoted to nurse anesthetists, they’ll likely land in the bottom tenth percentile of earnings while still making a six-figure yearly wage around $107,240. However, nurse anesthetists who put in years of experience and acquire significant leadership responsibility can often break the $200,000 salary mark each year for their expertise.
Nurse anesthetists are given the hefty duty of delivering anesthesia to patients for medical, surgical, obstetrical, or trauma care procedures. After administering the anesthetic, the advanced practice nurse will carefully monitor the patient’s vital signs, perform patient assessments, maintain proper sedation, and quickly address any medical problems that may occur in collaboration with doctors. Nurse anesthetists also oversee each patient’s recovery from anesthesia to make sure they awaken properly and have their post-operative needs met. In some cases, nurse anesthetists may also need to individually modify a certain drug treatment according to a patient’s medical record to maximize safety.
In order to be successful in nursing anesthesia, it’s essential that you have specialized clinical skills for inserting intravenous lines, preparing medication solutions, and injecting them properly. Having good technical abilities is important for nurse anesthetists to monitor cardiac and anesthesia machines as well as operate intravenous infusion pumps. Good communication skills are a must for nurse anesthetists to collaborate with various other healthcare professionals and calm patients before surgery. Nurse anesthetists must have stellar critical thinking and problem solving skills to make good judgments in stressful emergency situations. Being detail-oriented is also required for nurse anesthetists to notice even subtle changes in vital signs.
Degree and Education Requirements
Due to the large responsibilities given to nurse anesthetists, the educational requirements placed on the advanced profession are quite intensive. First, aspiring nurse anesthetists must earn their undergraduate degree in an accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Registered nurses with valid licensing can find an accelerated pathway by following an RN-to-BSN degree or skipping a step directly to an RN-to-MSN program. Most nurse anesthesia programs lead to a specialized Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with significant hands-on training in acute care settings. Achieving a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) will give even more enhanced knowledge in nurse anesthesia for more independence.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Of course, the most obvious advantage of becoming a nurse anesthetist is reaping a very high salary potential that rivals some doctors. Emotional rewards of delivering life-saving treatments to patients in need is another big payoff plus. Nurse anesthetists work in a fast-paced health environment directly with patients suffering from diverse medical problems, so boredom rarely sets in. There’s also a big demand for nurse anesthetists that virtually requires job stability in our current market. On the other hand, nurse anesthetists must undergo rigorous training and afford tuition expenses for spending three or more years in graduate school. Passing certification tests can be a challenge when studying within a busy nursing schedule. Nurse anesthetists tend to have unpredictable shift hours and need to remain on call for emergency situations as well.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, the first step is to become a registered nurse in your state of residence by passing the multiple-choice National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) with flying colors. It’s then recommended that you get your feet wet in the healthcare industry by gaining at least one year of full-time nursing experience, preferably in a surgical unit. From there, you can return to graduate school for receiving your master’s or doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia. All of the nation’s 114 accredited nurse anesthesia programs will require you to complete a minimum of 2,500 clinical hours and administer around 850 anesthetics. With degree in hand, you’ll have the qualifications needed to sit for the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) certification exam from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). This credential will then need to be maintained with at least 40 continuing education hours every two years of nurse anesthesia practice.
Demand for healthcare services are expected to soar thanks to increased access to insurance, our society’s emphasis on preventative care, and a massive aging baby boomer population. Since there’s a critical shortage of physicians, APNs are becoming the go-to source for continuing to deliver quality patient services. According to the BLS, the employment of nurse anesthetists is expected to skyrocket much faster than average at 31 percent, which will create around 8,800 new jobs by 2022. Qualified nurse anesthetists who are certified can find ample job opportunities at physician offices, general hospitals, outpatient care centers, universities, surgical hospitals, and with the federal government. Shortages will likely be largest in inner-city and rural areas that are traditionally underserved with healthcare.
For more than 150 years, nurse anesthetists have been the most cost-effective providers of anesthesia treatment with an excellent track record of safety. In fact, a study from the Research Triangle Institute found no significant difference in safety between CRNAs and anesthesiologists. If you make the decision to become a nurse anesthetist, you’ll have the rewarding opportunity to provide every type of anesthesia to patients of all ages who are undergoing any type of painful medical procedure in virtually every health delivery setting.
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