Memoirs of a New Nurse Anesthetist
Getting an advanced practice nursing degree is a tough decision, but is it worth it? Ryan Werblow, MSN, CRNA, a new nurse anesthetist at the WakeMed Raleigh Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., shares his insight on the ins and outs of a career in nurse anesthesiology, which is one of the largest specialties in nursing.
My sophomore year of high school, I attended a leadership conference where I was introduced to nursing careers – specifically advanced practice nurse opportunities. I immediately knew that nurse anesthesiology was the career for me! The career of a nurse anesthetist offered me an opportunity to do what I always wanted: applying science, physiology and pharmacology to patient care, while also providing an unbeatable work-life balance.
My first few months as a CRNA offered me a crash course in the complexities of our healthcare system. As a student nurse anesthetist, I was focused primarily on my anesthesia education. As such, I didn’t always appreciate the business, economic and political complexities involved in delivering healthcare. I quickly began to learn the ins and outs of billing, different practice models, collaborating with other specialties, hospital privileges versus state scope of practice laws, and many more topics that aren’t emphasized during a formal education in nurse anesthesia.
I have found that CRNAs provide anesthesia services in nearly every part of the hospital, not just the operating room – from the MRI scanner, to the dental clinic, to the intensive care unit and everywhere in between. CRNAs practice in various models throughout the healthcare system: as an independent practitioner, under medical supervision, under medical direction and as part of an anesthesia care team.
First, learn to rely more strongly on yourself. I quickly realized how much I relied on others as a student – even when I thought I was practicing independently. In your first few months ‘on your own,’ you begin to learn and master the skills that others may have assisted you with in school.
Second, one must maintain a healthy work-life balance. Your job as a new nurse anesthetist is to re-balance the scale after the heavy workload of anesthesia school. This may mean tilting the scale in favor of ‘life’ for several months – this is OK, you deserve it! Take a vacation. Turn down overtime opportunities. Your department and co-workers will survive when you are on vacation; trust me. You, on the other hand, may not survive without that vacation. Now is the time to take care of yourself and reclaim the work-life balance that anesthesia school deprived you of!
Third, I believe that every CRNA should have a professional mentor. In your first months as a CRNA, you will encounter situations, both clinical and personal, that you never imagined while in school. While we are armed with the tools to tackle most of these situations, having a mentor can help you tackle these situations with confidence. The learning doesn’t stop after school, so there’s no fault in having to consult with a professional mentor from time to time.
The learning has just begun! You will learn more in your first year as a nurse anesthetist than you did in all of your years of school. With the advent of resources such as social media, Khan Academy, podcasts and open access journals, learning is no longer limited to those sitting in a classroom. In fact, you can learn anything and everything with all of these free resources and more.
Professional organizations work tirelessly behind the scenes to protect and advance that particular profession. Membership in your professional organization is invaluable – it gives you a voice at the table in Washington D.C. It provides you with credibility as a competent practitioner in the eyes of insurance companies, colleagues and legislative bodies. Even today’s scope of practice was influenced by the tireless efforts of these organizations in the past. It’s always a good idea to join a professional organization to advance your knowledge and expertise in your chosen field.
I found my current job by emailing the Chief CRNA at the American Anesthesiology of North Carolina. I decided to just cut to the chase in my job search and contact the hiring manager directly. It’s amazing how easy it is to find an email with a simple Google search! It paid off – I received a response very quickly, and things from that point moved much faster versus going the alternative route of applying through a hospital website.
I can’t think of another career that perfectly balances the nurturing and caring principles we learn in nursing school, with the intense science background we master in anesthesia school.