Nurses considering a career in nurse anesthesiology know the role is complex and demands a high level of critical thinking and commitment. The career path, in which many certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) obtain a doctor of nursing practice degree, also offers a high salary and an upward projection of job openings. With a dynamic mix of clinical practice and the capability to work in many settings, nurse anesthetists find a rewarding career.CRNA Bijal Chaturvedi headshot in a black top

Bijal Chaturvedi, DNP, CRNA, GHLC is a member of the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) and gave Minority Nurse some insight into this career path.

How did your career path lead to nursing and becoming a CRNA?
During my final year in college, I battled severe bronchitis and sought help at the health clinic. The provider who attended to me was not a doctor but a nurse practitioner, displaying both kindness and extensive knowledge. This encounter sparked a conversation about her nursing career, introducing me to the world of advanced practice nursing. This pivotal moment inspired me to explore nursing as a career path.

Upon college graduation, despite my Indian parents’ desire for me to pursue medical school, I knew I wanted a profession that combined science, pharmacology, and interpersonal interactions. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in cellular biology, I promptly earned another Bachelor of Nursing within a year. Upon graduation, I entered the field of critical care nursing, working in the most acute critical care unit settings such as burn, cardiac, and transplant ICUs.  It was during my time at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Neurospine ICU that I witnessed the role of CRNAs. This experience solidified my decision to pursue a career as a CRNA.

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I earned my Master of Science in Anesthesia Nursing from Rush University in Chicago in 2005. In 2021, I received my Doctorate of Nursing from University of North Florida, and in 2022 I received my Global Health Leadership Certification from Northwestern University. I have participated in numerous global mission trips and currently co-chair the AANA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. I am also the chair of the Illinois Association of Nurse Anesthesiology’s DEI committee. I am passionate about healthcare equity and access and have my own nonprofit called Citizens For Humanity which addresses social determinants of health.

Do you specialize in a certain area or population?
Numerous healthcare environments rely on anesthesia services, encompassing fields such as dentistry, podiatry, surgery, obstetrics, and pain management. In my professional journey as a CRNA, I have experienced diverse settings, including community hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and plastic surgery centers, and participation in large teaching hospitals as part of an Anesthesia Care Team. The degree of autonomy varies across these settings, ranging from those with no supervision to those adopting a more interdependent model. I have experience working with diverse patient populations, including pediatric, low-income, and critically ill individuals.

What part of your job is particularly meaningful to you?
The profession of nurse anesthesiology offers a richly diverse and demanding path. In the clinical realm, you have the profound privilege of impacting individuals during their most vulnerable moments. A significant aspect of the gratification derived from administering anesthesia lies in the opportunity to support individuals through what may be the most daunting day of their lives. They grapple with fear of diagnosis, anticipation of pain, and uncertainties ahead. Your presence as a reassuring figure by their side during this critical juncture becomes paramount. While your expertise and competence in ensuring their safety throughout the procedure are undeniably vital, it is the compassion and humanity you extend that hold greater significance than any medication you administer.

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Is there something or someone that helped you in your career that others thinking of this career path will find helpful?
My foremost recommendation is to shadow multiple CRNAs across various cases. This immersive experience will provide a comprehensive understanding of what lies ahead. Engage in conversations with current students to gain insights into the rigorous nature of anesthesia school. Recognize that anesthesia training demands significant dedication; therefore, it’s prudent to prepare financially by saving diligently.

Building a robust financial cushion alleviates stress and minimizes post-graduation debt, especially considering the constraints on working while in school. Enhance your academic foundation by enrolling in graduate-level courses in anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. This not only demonstrates your commitment but also strengthens your candidacy, particularly if your undergraduate GPA is subpar. While these courses may not be transferrable to most anesthesia programs, they serve to fortify your knowledge base and reacquaint you with the rigors of student life.

What would you like others to know about a being a CRNA?
I believe that aspiring RNs should possess a robust grasp of physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology prior to embarking on anesthesia school. Embracing challenging assignments, volunteering for cases involving the most critically ill patients, and delving deeply into the rationale behind every action are crucial steps in nurturing a profound understanding of patient care. This comprehension extends to the selection of medications and interventions, ensuring that aspiring CRNAs are well-prepared for the demanding journey ahead. The ability to think critically is paramount in the delivery of safe anesthesia.

CRNAs must excel as problem solvers and keen observers, interpreting data independently and making informed decisions that can profoundly impact patient outcomes. The weight of responsibility underscores the imperative of being both accurate and decisive, recognizing that lives hinge on the choices made in the operating room.

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What is your advice for RNs considering a career as a CRNA?
Research various CRNA programs to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider factors such as clinical opportunities, cultural diversity, and program structure. Make an informed decision based on your personal preferences and goals.

Once enrolled in a program, maximize every educational opportunity, even if it seems insignificant. Graduate-level education requires proactive engagement, and your dedication will determine the quality of your learning experience. Learn from every case and practitioner, embracing the lessons they offer.

Collaborate with CRNAs who may be perceived as challenging, as they often uphold high standards and offer valuable insights. Maintain a positive attitude and remain open to feedback to maximize your learning potential. Avoid being labeled as unteachable, as it can hinder your educational progress.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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