Nurse Anesthetist Career Guide


The healthcare “field” is a bit of a misnomer; modern medicine is divided into seemingly countless interrelated fields and specialties, offering career opportunities for practically every skill-set and motivation. Everyone goes into medicine with the fundamental drive to help others, but sometimes just choosing a certain field can be overwhelming due to how many options are present. Should you become a general practice doctor, or should you specialize in a field such as obstetrics or cardiology? Should you become a surgeon instead? Would you rather work in a regular doctor’s office or in a hospital setting? If you choose to go into nursing, the choices continue to pile up. Do you become a trauma nurse in the emergency department? Do you become a pediatric nurse? The variety of specialties nurses can choose is almost as endless as the many tasks they perform, chief among them being the compassionate care, support, advising, and education of patients.

For a lucky few, though, the choice is clear: they want to be a nurse anesthetist, a professionally trained assistant who cares for patients undergoing anesthesia for dental and surgical procedures. If this sounds interesting to you, keep reading to find out how you can start your new career in this vital medical field.

Job Duties

Operating under direct supervision from anesthesiologists, surgeons, and dentists, nurse anesthetists fill a support role in anesthesia administration before and during surgery. Anesthesia is a process by which a patient is sedated before a procedure so that he or she doesn’t feel pain or move around and cause potential complications during surgery. General anesthesia is typically applied via a face mask, while local anesthesia can be applied directly to an area of the body to serve as a painkiller.

Nurse anesthetists are responsible for organizing and sometimes operating equipment and supplies, but their primary responsibilities are patient-oriented. Among their many duties, they educate patients before surgery and help alleviate any fears or concerns the patient may have regarding necessary anesthesia. During the procedure, the anesthetist administers oxygen, inserts artificial airways when required, and closely monitors the patient’s vital signs to limit or prevent complications.

Because of the several important tasks they carry out, nurse anesthetists should be compassionate, intelligent, able to solve problems quickly, and handle stressful situations.

Job Outlook

Nurse anesthetists work in a number of different medical centers, including maternity wards, emergency and operating rooms, outpatient care facilities, ambulatory surgical centers, and plastic surgery centers. They also find work in dentist offices, ophthalmologist offices, podiatrist offices, military medical facilities, many more.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that around 32,300 nurse anesthetists were employed in the United States in 2011.

Salary Trends

Due to the highly skilled nature of this work and the tremendous responsibility it entails, these professionals generally enjoy a very high salary. According to a report by National Salary Trend in 2012, nurse anesthetists earn an average annual salary of $91,000.

Education Requirements

To become a certified nurse anesthetist, one must complete a bachelor’s degree program which includes coursework in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Along with education, students must have some form of clinical experience in a medical facility.

At the master’s level, students take courses that usually include pathology, physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, and chemistry. In addition, they train and gain experience in medical clinics and surgical wards.

After acquiring at least one year’s worth of experience, professionals must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become certified to practice. This exam, which tests an individual’s skills and education, must be successfully completed within two years of beginning practice.

Educational and licensure requirements vary from state to state, so always be sure to get the precise information for the state in which you intend to practice.

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