This week, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and the work they do are honored with the annual CRNA Week.

CRNAs are highly trained nurses who have a focused skill set and responsibilities that require close patient interaction. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), this year’s celebration coincides with 2020’s historical event few will forget—the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the discovery of the first case of the virus in the United States.

In the past year, CRNAs have faced challenges they could have never anticipated. An overwhelming caseload of extremely ill patients, uncertainty of how to treat patients with the deadly virus, concerns about their own safety and that of their families, and lack of PPE supplies in some of the most advanced facilities in the world dawned in 2020.

Like other medical staff, some CRNAs have described conditions over the past year as “a war zone” and their heroic efforts to help and care for patients was evident. As a CRNA, these nurses are with patients before, during, and after procedures where anesthesia is necessary. The typical cadence of procedures changed in 2020, with big dips in elective surgery during COVID-19 surges and increased emergency situations for patients who were desperately ill. CRNAs needed to use their critical thinking and fast adaptation skills constantly.

Even before the pandemic, the need for CRNAs was on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 45 percent increase for trained CRNAs (along with nurse midwives and nurse practitioners) in the workforce by 2029. If you’re interested in pursuing this nursing path, you’ll want to plan carefully. In general, CRNAs hold at least a master’s degree and usually complete an average of 9,369 hours of clinical experience during their rigorous academic program

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Beginning in 2025, the requirements for this career path will change. At that point, nurses who want to hold this position will need to obtain a doctorate degree to become a CRNA. The current CRNA master’s degree programs will fold into these degree programs. If you’re already a CRNA by then, you won’t need to return to school for the additional degree.

But the rigorous preparation leads to a meaningful and financially stable career. U.S. News & World Report listed nurse anesthetists as holding the #10 slot in best paying jobs and #39 in the list of the top 100 best jobs and with an average annual salary of almost $175,000.

Above all else, CRNAs find their daily job gives them plenty of opportunities to use all their nursing skills—from complicated math to compassionate direct patient interaction. And having a positive impact where they focus on improving the outcomes of surgeries and procedures for the patient and for the larger medical team is something for which all CRNAs strive.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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