There are approximately 54,000 certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) currently licensed in the US. According to the AANA, those 54,000 CRNAs provide a whopping 49 million anesthetics annually. That’s a lot of anesthesia.
While CRNAs have been providing anesthesia for over 150 years we are still a bit of mystery to the public. Unless you happen to be in the healthcare field or related to someone who is, it’s unlikely you know much about nurse anesthetists. (Or how to pronounce it for that matter. Anetist? Anestitist?) Other advanced nursing professions like nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives have been more successful on the PR front in educating the public about their role in the healthcare landscape. However, recent events involving the pandemic have brought CRNAs more into the public eye as we continue to show our tremendous versatility and capability as providers.
So, why is it that the general public is so confused by our role and our credentials? Why are the credentials ‘NP’ so much more recognizable? CRNAs are not often portrayed in the media. Films and TV shows involving an operating room or intubation scene often depict physicians filling these roles. Our profession seems to lie in a cloud of obscurity and it’s for this reason I call it a hidden gem. It’s an incredible profession essentially hidden in plain sight.
One reason we aren’t well known is because most patients have a vague memory of the perioperative period. They often don’t remember the journey back to the OR or their time spent in recovery, so the likelihood of remembering their anesthetist is slim. We’re essentially like stealth ninjas who do our work in the shadows and leave without a trace.
Despite our obscurity, the profession itself is truly unique. It’s one of the only professions that requires a a relatively small time commitment (2-3 yrs) for a rather large financial return. According to the AANA’s Compensation & Benefits Survey, the average income for a CRNA in the United States is currently around $186,700. Save for a few pockets of very high earning RNs around the country (I’m looking at you Bay Area!), the average income for an RN is about $75,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 2.5x increase in pay for just 2-3 years of your time. By paying loans off immediately after school, nurse anesthesia allows you to reach financial independence earlier in your career, especially considering the average age of an SRNA is only 30 years old!
Another reason it’s a hidden gem is the amount of autonomy you gain by becoming a CRNA. You are your patient’s advocate and play an essential role in their clinical outcome. I say this whether you practice in an opt-out state or within a care team model, the decisions you make affect the patient’s anesthetic course and clinical outcome.
Another perk to the job is the fact that you get to watch surgery all day. From a robotic hysterectomy, to a VATS, to a section, there’s so much you can experience in one day. I feel a sense of discovery and excitement with each case that I never grow tired of. CRNAs are constantly learning and evolving as our profession continues to grow. With increased autonomy, surgical advancements and new anesthesia management techniques, CRNAs are always there ready to meet the challenge.
The versatility of an anesthesia provider is remarkable. From dental offices to level I teaching hospitals, surgery centers to GI clinics, our scope and breath of knowledge is vast. We are able to meet the demand of an ever-changing healthcare climate. Even with the immense challenges our county is currently facing with the pandemic, CRNAs have adapted. Our foundation in critical care along with our advanced practice training and airway expertise have allowed us to expand our scope to meet the present challenges. Whether W-2 or 1099, full time or part time, care-team or independent, the versatility of the CRNA profession amazes me.
It’s for these reasons that I consider nurse anesthesia a hidden gem. It offers financial stability, increased autonomy, an enhanced clinical skill set, great versatility and flexibility. And if the day never comes when our patients recognize the letters ‘CRNA’ as readily as they do ‘NP’, I’ll still take pride in this profession and all that it has given me. This hidden gem.