Tahlequah Daily Press

January 21, 2014

Feeling no pain

Nurse anesthetists a saving grace in most rural health facilities

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Before surgery, a patient talks to his primary care physician, his surgeon, and his family, even when the procedure seems mundane.

But many other people work behind the scenes in the operating room, ensuring that patient care is the primary focus. Among those caregivers are nurse anesthetists.

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are the primary providers of anesthesia care in rural America. Because of them, health care facilities in often underserved areas can offer obstetrical, pain management and trauma stabilization services. In some states, CRNAs are the sole providers in nearly 100 percent of the rural hospitals.

Eastar Health Systems employs a number of CRNAs. According to organization officials, a nurse anesthetist is a nurse who specializes in the administration of anesthesia.

In the U.S., a CRNA is an advanced practice registered nurse who has acquired graduate-level education and board certification in anesthesia.

Robin Hood is a CRNA at Tahlequah City Hospital, and provides general anesthesia, regional anesthesia - nerve blocks - for post-operative pain relief, epidurals and spinal blocks and sedations. She chose this line of nursing because it provides her a good deal of autonomy.

“I still have direct patient contact while being able to use an advanced skill set needed specifically for anesthesia,” said Hood. “I love being able to provide pain relief for my patients, epidural pain relief for the laboring mother, or post-op nerve blocks for total joints or shoulder surgeries.”

Hood has worked at TCH for 20 years with small breaks for school and other jobs.

“But TCH is home,” she said. “This hospital does a great job with the four CRNAs we have here. I would let any anesthesia provider at this hospital care for any member of my family without any reservation.”

Hood returned to school to receive the extra training needed to become a CRNA.

“Nurse anesthesia schools require you have a bachelor’s degree, at least one year of critical care nursing experience, high grade point and CCRN certification,” said Hood.

“I was an RN for nine years before I got into anesthesia school.”

According to TCH anesthesia programs run two to three years in length. To become a CCRNA, a master’s degree is required, as well as a minimum 15-month residency and board certification.

“I love my job,” said Hood. “Going back to school was the best decision I ever made.”

Today, nurse anesthetists practice in all 50 states and administer about 34 million anesthetics each year.

“CRNAs practice in a wide variety of public and private settings, including large academic medical center, small community hospitals, and outpatient surgery centers working together with anesthesiologists,” said Dr. Bradley Stahlheber, medical director for anesthesia at Eastar Health System.

“CRNAs play a significant role in the Anesthesia Care Team Model under the direction of anesthesiologists.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2012, there are 34,180 nurse anesthetists in the U.S. The mean hourly wage is $74.22, or $154,390 per year.

In this state, the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas have the highest concentration of nurse anesthetists. Of the approximately 200 nurses in this field, the majority, 150, are in the Tulsa area, with 40 residing in the Oklahoma City area. The annual mean wage in the Tulsa area is $152,880.

Oklahoma is home to 35 colleges or universities that offer nurse anesthetist programs, including Northeastern State University. Other nearby colleges include Bacone College, Muskogee; Rogers State University, Claremore; Oklahoma Weslyan University, Bartlesvlle; Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Okmulgee; the University of Tulsa and Tulsa Community College, Tulsa; and Connors State College, Warner.