Anesthesiology is a fascinating area of medicine very few people ever think about until it's time to have surgery. An anesthesiologist is the person who decides what type of anesthesia to use for a given procedure, how much to use, and how it's administered. An anesthesiologist is assisted by a nurse anesthetist; an advanced practice nurse also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).
The position of a nurse anesthetist is widely regarded throughout the medical community as being the first specialty in the nursing field. Its history dates back to the late 1800s when the surgeons began growing frustrated by the number of complications and deaths arising out of the improper use of anesthesia. A group of nurses in the Northeast began working on this problem and eventually the specialty was established.
Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist
In order to work in this field one must have an advanced nursing degree. Typically the nurse anesthetist will have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree plus certification from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). You'll be able to identify one of these individuals by the credentials CRNA.
Individuals who know at the beginning of their studies they want to enter the field of anesthesiology can enter a program that will take them through associate and bachelor level course work and then on into the master program. The entire process usually takes between six and eight years depending on the school one chooses and the level of coursework required. It's not uncommon for candidates to earn a bachelor degree first, and work a few years in another field, before heading into a master program.
Duties of the Nurse Anesthetist
The specific duties of the nurse anesthetist depend on what individual state law allows him or her to do. As a general rule, the nurse anesthetist is involved in determining the type of anesthesia appropriate for a given patient and administering that anesthesia before and during surgical procedures. It is an area of medicine which requires individual research for every patient in order to make sure the right options are utilized.
In most states the nurse anesthetist works together with an anesthesiologist to form what's known as the anesthesiology care team. This collaborative effort utilizes both the advanced skill and knowledge of the anesthesiologist, who's also a licensed physician, and the practical skills of the nurse anesthetist. Together the team will discuss options with patients and provide their care while under anesthetic. In some states, the nurse anesthetist is permitted to administer anesthesia without supervision. In other states he or she must be supervised by a licensed physician of any sort.
Job Outlook and Salary
As is the case with most careers in the medical profession, the job outlook for nurse anesthesiology is extremely bright. Government statistics indicate double-digit growth at least through the next 6 to 8 years. The majority of nurse anesthetists work in hospitals or outpatient facilities providing care in a pre-op setting. In states where direct and immediate supervision by a licensed physician is not required you can find nurse anesthetist positions in public health clinics and other settings.
The compensation for such individuals is not as much as some other medical profession careers, but still nothing to laugh about. According to statistics the average annual compensation in 2009 was just over $150,000. That makes the nurse anesthetist among the highest-paid in all the nursing professions. As an interesting side note, about 40% of all nurse anesthetists are male, as compared to 10% across all other nursing disciplines.