Celebrating National Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) Week 2017

National CRNA Week 2017 is just around the corner. Initiated in 2000, it is an opportunity to honor the more than 40,000 certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) who provide more than 43 million anesthetics a year, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). The last full week of January is designed to recognize their valuable contributions to health care in the US; in 2017 it will be January 22 through January 28.

A Historical Perspective

Certified registered nurse anesthetists have a long and honorable history as anesthesia providers. The profession began on the battlefields of the American Civil War, where professional nurses administered the limited anesthetics available at the time to wounded soldiers.

Sister Mary Bernard, who began her duties at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1887, left the first records documenting anesthetic nursing care. By 1956, the national CRNA credential was initiated. In 1986, Congress authorized CRNAs to bill Medicare and Medicaid directly – the first of the advanced practice nurses to receive that distinction. Prior to that time, surgeons paid a part of their fee to the CRNA or the CRNA was employed by a hospital.

A Wide Range of Work Settings

CRNAs can be found in work settings all over the US and around the world. They have been the primary anesthesia providers for the US military since WWII, according to the AANA. They are also the primary anesthesia providers in the majority of rural American towns, and in some states, they are the only anesthesia providers in rural hospitals. In addition to traditional hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms (including critical access hospitals), CRNAs can be found in ambulatory surgical centers, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, various public health services and Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities. Although many work in rural areas, they may also be found in metropolitan settings. The US Bureau of Labor statistics reports the top three metropolitan settings for CRNAs in 2015 were the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area of Texas, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater in Florida and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A Professional Approach

Although CRNAs were once required to have physician supervision, 17 states have opted out of the requirement and additional states never had supervision requirements in the first place. CRNAs who administer anesthesia are considered to be practicing nursing and physicians practice medicine, but both give anesthesia in exactly the same way. As a result, anesthesia care is at least 50 percent safer than it was in the 1980s, according to the Institute of Medicine. CRNAs are respected members of the healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, dentists, nurses and other team members for the good of the patient. CRNAs must complete extensive continuing education to remain certified, as well as completing educational modules in four designated areas. They must also pass a comprehensive certification examination every eight years.

Commensurate Compensation

Like most advanced practice nurses (APRNs), a designation that also includes nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists, CRNAs receive higher compensation for their work than the average RN. Educated to a minimum of a master’s level – although less than five percent of CRNAs hold a doctorate, by 2025 a doctorate will be the minimum education required to practice – CRNAs earn commensurate salaries. The average annual CRNA salary was $70,000 in 2015, according to a survey conducted by Medscape. However, some areas pay even more. Average annual wages in the top five highest-paying states ranged from $206,150 in California to $243,550 in Montana. Gender disparities exist in this area – male CRNAs typically earn more than female CRNAs.

Advancing Profession and Practice

Although most CRNAs work in clinical practice areas, they are also found in education and research. As of 2013, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports 67 colleges and universities offered master’s-level CRNA programs, while 13 offered a doctorate in nursing anesthesia. The latter number is expected to grow due to the push to have a doctorate become the basic level of CRNA education by 2025. The AANA has a specific research agenda dedicated to improvements in health policy, the science of anesthesia, education, practice/clinical and leadership. CRNAs are also involved in a variety of research projects on many related topics, often in collaboration with physician anesthesiologists, which is one reason the practice of anesthesia is so much safer today than it was a few decades ago.

Other CRNA Tidbits

Nursing, in general, is still a female-dominated profession, with less than 10 percent male registered nurses in the US, according to the AANA. However, those statistics change among CRNAs, where 41 percent of CRNAs were male as of 2013, according to the US Census Bureau. Research indicates patient outcomes are essentially the same when CRNAs are compared to anesthesiologists. From a hospital employer’s perspective, it’s much more cost-effective to hire a CRNA. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, an anesthesiologist earns about two-and-a-half time more than a CRNA, but Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance companies reimburse for both at the same rate.

Celebrate the CRNA Week

Communities and nursing associations can help recognize the value of CRNAs by participating in National CRNA Week. Press releases and interviews can help bring the work of CRNAs to the public’s attention and help to put a face on the person often hidden behind a surgical mask. The AANA offers promotional materials, posters, brochures and a variety of free materials to help celebrate National CRNA Week 2017. CRNAs fill a valuable and vital role in health care – they deserve all the recognition they can get.

Author bio: Emma Turner is a blogger and avid fitness enthusiast. She writes for http://nursingschoolsnearme.com, a website helping students and established nursing professionals.