Spotlight on CRNAs in 2021
About 57,000 people in the United States are certified registered nurse anesthetists or CRNAs. They are highly skilled, well-paid professionals who provide anesthesia to patients and advocate for their safety in a multitude of settings. The future for these professionals looks very promising, thanks to the strong demand for CRNAs, ranging from full-time job prospects to locum tenens CRNA opportunities.
“There’s never been a better time to be a CRNA,” said Brett Morgan, DNP, CRNA, senior director of education and practice for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).
Healthcare professionals can honor the contributions of CRNAs to the healthcare industry during National CRNA Week, which takes place January 24-30, 2021. The annual event began in 2000 when the AANA began organizing a celebration of the nation’s CRNA workforce.
The important role of CRNAs
What role does a nurse anesthetist play? CRNAs perform assessments, administer anesthesia in a variety of practice settings and monitor patients closely during and after procedures. They work as part of a team that includes surgeons and other healthcare professionals.
“CRNAs fill a very critical role in the healthcare setting,” said Morgan. “They are highly trained, highly experienced nurses.”
“All CRNAs share one goal,” noted Yana Krmic, CRNA, MSN, APRN, president of the New York State Association of Nurse Anesthetists. “It is to provide safe, evidence-based, accessible, and cost-beneficial care to each and every patient.”
Working as a nurse anesthetist is a challenging career, to be sure. It requires several years of advanced education, in addition to some critical care experience. Those in the field know that it requires intense focus, as well.
But that’s the beauty of being a CRNA, according to Jenni Walsh, CRNA, DNP, who has been a nurse anesthetist since 2017. Before that, she spent three years as an oncology nurse and five years in the intensive care unit.
“You really have to make sure you want to do it,” said Walsh, who practices at a large academic medical center in Chicago. “But I think it’s worth it. I love my job.”
CRNAs may also be able to look forward to greater autonomy in some states. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, some states relaxed restrictions for independent practice by CRNAs and other advanced practice nurses. Many of the executive orders lifting those barriers are still in place as 2021 gets underway, and the AANA is hopeful about preserving them (or enacting similar lifts) for the future.
“We are advocating hard for them to remain in place because they make sense,” said Morgan.
For example, in early January, the state of Massachusetts passed a law lifting certain supervisory requirements on advanced practice nurses, which will give CRNAs the authority to write prescriptions and order tests without supervision.
CRNAs Job Outlook
According to Terry Wicks, DNP, CRNA, assistant clinical professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s School of Nursing, the ongoing demand for CRNAs makes it a good career path to choose right now.
“Fortunately, the nurse anesthesia job market is rich with opportunity and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future,” he said.
For one thing, it’s a lucrative choice. Typically, CRNAs earn the highest salaries among nursing specialties. The annual median wage for nurse anesthetists is about $174,790, according to 2019 employment estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
CRNAs also have a variety of job opportunities open to them, as they can and do practice in a wide variety of settings, from hospitals to outpatient surgery centers to doctors’ offices.
CRNAs are also the primary providers of anesthesia in rural communities. In fact, the AANA recently joined the Rural Health Action Alliance to advocate for improved access to care for people living in rural communities.
“The ability to choose the region, climate, urban or rural location to practice is one of the many elements that make a career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist so attractive,” said Wicks.
He added, “There are rich opportunities in both the military and the private sectors, which will be attractive to students, depending on their interests.”
Opportunities for temporary or locum tenens CRNA jobs abound, too. According to Morgan, a growing number of people have been purchasing malpractice insurance policies for the purpose of working in temporary positions. That suggests that more people are turning to this type of opportunity.
Just starting out as a CRNA? Wicks has some advice for you.
“My advice to any graduate nurse anesthetist would be to choose the practice setting that meets their professional preferences,” he said. “If they do that, they can be virtually assured of enormous job satisfaction while caring for patients at their most vulnerable time of life.”
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