History of Nurse Anesthesia

History of Nurse Anesthesia

Nurse Anesthetists have been providing anesthesia care to patients in the United State for nearly 150 years.  The credential CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) came into existence in 1956. CRNAs are anesthesia professionals who safely administer approximately 32 million anesthetics to patients each year in the United States, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) 2008 Practice Profile Survey.  CRNAs are the primary anesthesia providers in rural America, enabling healthcare facilities in these medically underserved areas to offer obstetrical, surgical, and trauma stabilization services.  In some states, CRNAs are the sole providers in nearly 100% of the rural hospitals.  According to a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, anesthesia care is nearly 50 times safer than it was in the early 1980s.  Numerous outcomes studies have demonstrated that there is no difference in the quality of care provided by CRNAs and their physician counterparts.*

CRNAs provide anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified healthcare professionals. When anesthesia is administered by a nurse anesthetist, it is recognized as a practice of nursing, when administered by an anesthesiologist, it is recognized as the practice of medicine.  Regardless of whether their educational background is in nursing or medicine, all anesthesia professionals give anesthesia the same way. As advanced practice nurses, CRNAs practice with a high degree of autonomy and  professional respect.  They carry a heavy load of responsibility and are compensated accordingly.  CRNAs practice in every setting in which anesthesia is delivered: traditional hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms; critical access hospitals; ambulatory surgical centers; the offices of dentists, podiatrists, opthalmologists, plastic surgeons, and pain management specialists; and the U.S. military, Public Health Services and Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities. 

Nurse Anesthetists have been the main providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military men and women on the front lines since WWI, including current conflicts in the Middle East. Nurses first provided anesthesia to wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Managed care plans recognize CRNAs for providing high-qualitiy care with reduced expense to patients and insurance companies.  The cost-efficiency of CRNAs control escalating healthcare costs. Across the country, nurse anesthetist professional liability premiums are 33% lower than 20 years ago (or 62% lower when adjusted for inflation). Legislation passed by Congress in 1986 made nurse anesthetists the first advanced practice nursing specialty to be accorded direct reimbursement rights under the Medicare Program. Approximately 41% of the nation's 44,000 nurse anesthetists (which included student nurse anesthetists) are men, compared with less than 10% in the nursing profession as a whole. More than 90% of the U.S. Nurse Anesthetists are members of the AANA.

*To receive a copy of Quality of Care in Anesthesia, please contact the AANA at 847-692-7050, or visit the website at www.aana.com/resources

Life in Discovery