Rural America: The Latest Front Line for America’s CRNAs

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As America’s nearly 60,000 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) get ready to celebrate their profession during Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Week from Jan. 22-28, they plan to honor their past by providing stellar care in the future.

This year’s theme is “The Original Anesthesia Experts,” acknowledges nurses’ long history as the first providers of anesthesia. Nurses worked on Civil War battlefields and nurse anesthetists were the predominant anesthesia-care providers on the front lines of World War I.

CRNAs still play primary roles in the U.S. military as well as to millions of civilians in hospital surgical suites, ambulatory surgical centers and other settings. These highly trained professionals are vital everywhere, and nowhere more than in rural areas, where CRNAs are the predominant providers of anesthesia care.

No one knows that better than Kimberly Brandt, MSN, MPH, CRNA, the chief nurse anesthetist at the only hospital in Taos, New Mexico. Brandt, who has worked in large hospitals in New York City and Philadelphia, says her job didn’t get easier when she moved 2,000 from a metropolis to an area where a Southwest high desert meets the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

“Without CRNAs in New Mexico, the majority of residents wouldn’t have access to care,” says Ms. Brandt. “People think working in a rural environment means you can sit back and you’ll have easy cases, but that’s not true. I have to think on my feet to provide the best and safest care for patients.”

In addition to allowing patients to undergo surgery safely in rural areas, CRNAs also provide care to patients where they live, including working on surgical deliveries -- without an obstetrics team to assist – so maternal patients don’t have to travel great distances to have their babies.

In November, the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) called for better access to quality care for rural communities. They urged Congress to create an Office of Rural Health in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, something proposed in the Rural Health Equity Act. The office would have more discretion and resources to analyze, study, and address the unique health care challenges and disparities faced by rural communities across America.

This work by nurse anesthetists is one of many reasons to celebrate the profession later this month.

“Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Week gives the healthcare community and the greater public alike the opportunity to reflect on the heroic work and unique expertise of CRNAs and future CRNAs—students enrolled in nurse anesthesiology programs--while recognizing the power and resilience of our community,” says the AANA.

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