Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists are registered nurses who have undergone specialized graduate-level education in anesthesia, which frequently includes the administration of pain killers and sedatives. Nurse anesthetists are different from anesthesiologists (doctors who are trained in anesthesia) because while they can practice independently, they frequently choose to work in collaborative situations along with physicians and health care professionals. Nurse anesthetists care for patients in all types of health care facilities. They prepare patients for medical procedures and situations that require relief of intense pain, such as surgery or delivering a baby. The nurse anesthetist administers pain medications and sedatives in the appropriate amount as required by patients in whatever situations they are receiving care. In addition, they monitor patients’ vital systems while they are "under" to assure their safety. Nurse anesthetists are also called Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, or CRNAs.

Certification is an assurance to the public that the individual has met the minimum standards for entry into professional practice in the field.

John C. PrestonSenior Director of Education and Professional Development for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists

Getting a Medical License and a Certification in Anesthesiology

To become a CRNA, you must have a bachelor of science in nursing or a related discipline and a current registered nurse (RN) license. To get an RN license, you must have graduated from an accepted nursing program and passed the NCLEX exam. The NCLEX exam is administered nationally and all nursing candidates must pass it to become a registered nurse. They also have to apply for a license in their individual state and take any required qualifying exams.

Once you have a nursing degree and RN license, you can apply for a nurse anesthesia program. Nurse anesthesia programs are offered in the form of master’s or doctoral degrees. All programs require candidates to have worked for at least one year in an acute care setting (ICU) before they can apply to a CRNA program. Most CRNA programs will also require clinical experience at a large care center as a requirement for graduation. One of the most important things to look for in a CRNA program, according to John C. Preston, CRNA and senior director of education and professional development for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), is accreditation by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, or the COA. "The COA is the only body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to evaluate nurse anesthesia programs," Preston said. Accreditation "ensures quality and that the program will deliver what students need for success," he said. "Beyond that, potential students should look into program length and total educational costs, as they are fairly wide and vary from program to program."

After completing a nurse anesthetist program, all candidates must pass the National Certification Examination (NCE) to become CRNAs. Certification is administered by the National Board on Certification and Re-certification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Certification is an important part of becoming a CRNA because it measures the knowledge, skills and abilities of new nurse anesthetists. If a candidate passes the certification exam, employers know that he or she has gained the necessary knowledge and experience to safely administer anesthesia.

"Certification is an assurance to the public that the individual has met the minimum standards for entry into professional practice in the field," Preston said. When patients are anesthetized during surgery, they need highly educated and skilled practitioners providing their care. CRNAs are prepared to correctly monitor their levels of anesthesia and maintain their safety throughout their surgical or obstetrical experience. "If you’re not certified, most employers will not recognize you as a viable option for employment. In addition to not being economically viable, employers need the assurance that individuals are competent to practice as a CRNA, and certification is an essential step," Preston said.

Maintaining a Medical License and an Anesthesiology Certification

Maintaining certification as a CRNA is important because the medical field is constantly evolving. Anytime a new development occurs in one area of health care, the rest of the medical community must be aware of the change and respond accordingly. Certification is also important because the required continuing education, necessary to maintain certification for nurse anesthetists, helps maintain necessary expertise for the working CRNAs.

To maintain your license and certification, you will need to renew both your RN license and your CRNA certification according to appropriate guidelines. Renewal of your RN license will be defined by your individual state, so go to your state’s board of nursing website for information about the renewal procedure. Renewing your nurse anesthetist certification is accomplished through the NBCRNA and must be completed every two years. According to the NBCRNA 2011 Re-certification Criteria Brochure, to become recertified, you must provide proof of your initial certification, proof of your current RN license, complete at least 40 hours of approved continuing education, certify that you have been working as a CRNA during your last certification period, and submit an application and re-certification fee.

The continuing education requirement for CRNA recertification can be completed in many ways, such as individual study, seminars, and professional development courses. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists provides online opportunities for professional development in areas such diverse areas as clinically relevant content, communication skills, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the discovery and development of anesthesia.

According to Preston, CRNAs can potentially use many different forms of education and professional development to qualify for continuing education, as long as it is relevant to the practice of nurse anesthesia and meets the requirements set by the NBCRNA. Students can complete their requirements online, face to face, through approved academic research, and even by publishing that research. Generally, continuing education hours approved by the AANA will always be acceptable to the NBCRNA. However, according to Preston, CRNAs are free to pursue whatever education they determine will help them develop professionally and personally and can always inquire as to whether or not the AANA will accept that work as qualifying for continuing education credit.

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